Researchers in London recently completed a new study examining the effects of high levels of stress on the ability of eyewitnesses to accurately identify a perpetrator. Drs. Tin Valentine and Jan Mesout of Goldsmiths, University of London, homed in specifically on the distinction between the low levels of stress, more akin to “heightened awareness,” and the more severe “cognitive anxiety” that most individuals experience when faced with an unexpected physical threat.
The new research further confirms earlier findings by social scientists examining the effects of stress levels approximating those experienced in a typical crime scenario: High levels of stress have a “catastrophic effect on the accuracy of eyewitness memory.” The findings were the same with respect to a witness’s ability to accurately describe a perpetrator — the higher the stress level, the more errors were recorded in descriptive details relating to the perpetrator.
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