Eyewitness memory: Balancing the accuracy, precision, and quantity of information through metacognitive monitoring and control

Jacqueline Evans, Florida International University


Historically, memory has been evaluated by examining how much is remembered, however a more recent conception of memory focuses on the accuracy of memories. When using this accuracy-oriented conception of memory, unlike with the quantity-oriented approach, memory does not always deteriorate over time. A possible explanation for this seemingly surprising finding lies in the metacognitive processes of monitoring and control. Use of these processes allows people to withhold responses of which they are unsure, or to adjust the precision of responses to a level that is broad enough to be correct. The ability to accurately report memories has implications for investigators who interview witnesses to crimes, and those who evaluate witness testimony. ^ This research examined the amount of information provided, accuracy, and precision of responses provided during immediate and delayed interviews about a videotaped mock crime. The interview format was manipulated such that a single free narrative response was elicited, or a series of either yes/no or cued questions were asked. Instructions provided by the interviewer indicated to the participants that they should either stress being informative, or being accurate. The interviews were then transcribed and scored. ^ Results indicate that accuracy rates remained stable and high after a one week delay. Compared to those interviewed immediately, after a delay participants provided less information and responses that were less precise. Participants in the free narrative condition were the most accurate. Participants in the cued questions condition provided the most precise responses. Participants in the yes/no questions condition were most likely to say “I don’t know”. The results indicate that people are able to monitor their memories and modify their reports to maintain high accuracy. When control over precision was not possible, such as in the yes/no condition, people said “I don’t know” to maintain accuracy. However when withholding responses and adjusting precision were both possible, people utilized both methods. It seems that concerns that memories reported after a long retention interval might be inaccurate are unfounded. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Experimental|Psychology, Cognitive

Recommended Citation

Evans, Jacqueline, "Eyewitness memory: Balancing the accuracy, precision, and quantity of information through metacognitive monitoring and control" (2008). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3358432.