Looks can be deceiving in witnessing a crime


It’s easy to make a false memory. All you need is a friend and this list of words.

Read the words to your friend slowly (about one or two seconds per word).

Then ask your friend to remember as many of the words as possible.

Here’s the list: bed, rest, awake, tired, dream, wake, snooze, blanket, doze, slumber, snore, nap, peace, yawn, drowsy.

Most people can remember about half the words. But about 55 percent of people who take the test swear they remember the word “sleep,” which isn’t on the list.

The reason some people remember the word “sleep” is that words like “bed,” “snooze” and “doze” remind them of sleep.

“Thoughts that are sparked during an event can later be remembered as having occurred during that event,” said Kathleen McDermott of Washington University in St. Louis.

This is important to understanding eyewitness testimony because it suggests a way that witnesses might be fooled, said McDermott, who developed the test with colleague Henry Roediger III.

For example, people might see a crime being committed and think the perpetrator resembles somebody they have seen around their neighborhood once or twice.

Later, the witnesses might testify that the person they were reminded of committed the crime.

That may sound far-fetched, but it has happened in dozens of cases that were overturned by DNA evidence.

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