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Words Get in the Way

Talk is cheap, but it can tax your memory

By
10:25am, April 15, 2003

Law-enforcement officials typically solicit descriptions of criminals from eyewitnesses, often just after an offense has occurred. It stands to reason that thorough accounts by those who saw what happened will help investigators round up the likeliest suspects. Eyewitnesses can then pick the criminals out of a lineup. When crime-scene interviewing had its first brush with memory research in 1990, however, the results proved disturbing. A series of laboratory studies found that memories for a mock criminal's face were much poorer among eyewitnesses who had described what the perpetrator looked like shortly after seeing him, compared with those who hadn't.

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