This study examined whether or not exposing an eyewitness to a co-witness statement that incorrectly blames an innocent bystander for a crime can increase the likelihood of the eyewitness subsequently blaming the innocent bystander for the crime. It also examined whether or not the perceived age of the co-witness influences this effect. Participant eyewitnesses first watched a video of a crime featuring a perpetrator and an innocent bystander. They then read one of six bogus co-witness statements about the crime. All were presented as having been written by a female co-witness and they differed in terms of her age (young adult or elderly) and who she blamed for the crime (the perpetrator, the innocent bystander, or nobody). One week later the participants were asked who committed the crime. When the young adult co-witness had blamed the innocent bystander just over 40% of participants subsequently did the same. Few participants (less than 8%) in the other conditions subsequently blamed the innocent bystander. The elderly co-witness was also rated as less credible, less competent, and less accurate than the younger co-witness suggesting eyewitnesses were less likely to be influenced by her incorrect statement as they perceived her to be a less reliable source of information. The applied implications of these findings are discussed.
Below: Percentage of trials on which participants attributed blame for a crime to the innocent man, innocent woman, guilty woman, or responded don’t know after reading a co-witness statement where a young adult or elderly co-witness blamed either nobody (control statements), the innocent woman (incorrect statements), or the guilty woman (correct statements).
Below: Participants’ perceptions of the young adult and elderly co-witness’s accuracy, confidence, honesty, credibility, and competence
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