The present set of experiments aimed to investigate the effects of negative emotion on specific aspects of eyewitness recall and recognition performance. The experience of emotion was manipulated between subjects, with participants either viewing a crime scenario (a mugging) or a neutral scenario (a conversation). Eyewitness recall was categorized into descriptions of the perpetrator, critical incident, victim, and environmental details. The completeness and accuracy of eyewitness recall across categories of detail were measured in Experiment 1. A significant main effect of negative emotion was found for the completeness of recall. Furthermore, a significant main effect of the completeness of eyewitness statements was found, but not for their accuracy. However, these main effects were qualified by a significant interaction between emotion and category of detail recalled. Specifically, emotional participants provided a more complete description of the perpetrator than neutral participants; however, they were less able than their neutral counterparts to describe what the perpetrator did to the victim. In light of these findings, Experiment 2 investigated whether enhanced completeness of perpetrator descriptions during recall translated into an enhanced ability to recognize the perpetrator from a photographic lineup by emotional compared with neutral participants. Results from Experiment 2 suggest that while emotional participants again provide a more complete description of the perpetrator, they are less able than their neutral counterparts to recognize the perpetrator from a photographic lineup. Results are discussed in terms of a retrieval motivation hypothesis of negative emotional experience and the possible consequences for eyewitness testimony.
Houston, K. A., Clifford, B. R., Phillips, L. H., & Memon, A. (2013). The emotional eyewitness: the effects of emotion on specific aspects of eyewitness recall and recognition performance. Emotion, 13(1), 118-128. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0029220