Research has shown that co-witnesses are seven times more likely than witnesses to misinform about a crime. Furthermore, intoxicated witnesses tend to give inaccurate accounts but retain fewer details.
Researchers fromAbertay UniversityAndLondon South Bank UniversityWe set out to determine how co-witnesses’ and alcohol consumption impact the accuracy of statements made after an incident.
The study, published in the journal Psychopharmacology, included a mix of sober participants and participants who were moderately intoxicated through the consumption of vodka and orange juice, with both groups asked to recall details from videos showing a mock opportunistic theft.
Participants were divided into pairs, and each pair was shown a different version. However, they were encouraged to believe they saw the same video.
Half of the participants were allowed time to share what they saw before being asked to recall.
Participants who participated in discussions included errors 6.95 times more frequently than those who only recalled. 87.7% of participants gave at least one incorrect piece of information they hadn’t seen but learned about from their co-witnesses.
This effect was not affected by alcohol. Participants who had been drunk were no more likely to recall misinformation than those who had been sober.
Also, it was found that participants who were drunk were more accurate than those who were sober, but less detailed in their accounts.
Participants’ confidence was also affected by alcohol consumption. They believed their memory was less accurate when it wasn’t.
The study’s co-leaderDr Julie GawrylowiczSchool of Applied Sciences at Abertay University said that “Contrary the perceptions often held by the public and many professionals working in the criminal justice system, we found that mild to moderate alcohol impairment does not make people more vulnerable to incorporating misleading information from a coworker.”
“Our research also showed that alcohol can affect recall completeness, but not accuracy. Therefore, mildly to moderately intoxicated witnesses could be considered reliable sources of information even if they are questioned while intoxicated. This study examined memory at low- to moderate levels of intoxication, with only a slight delay before recall and no other factors.
“Those involved in criminal justice chains, including judges, police and jurors, should be aware that while witnesses may report less detail and be less confident in their accounts, it does not necessarily mean their account is less accurate.
“The results also showed that all witnesses, drunk and sober, can discuss a crime together to report information they didn’t see or have only heard from another witness.
“This suggests it might be important to minimize co-witness discussions where a crime is witnessed in public settings like bars and restaurants.”