Eyewitness memory in cross-cultural contexts

The research project Eyewitness Memory in Cross-Cultural Contexts is a collaborative project of the Amsterdam Laboratory for Legal Psychology (ALLP) and the Center for International Criminal Justice (CICJ). It is financed by an European Research Council Starting Grant awarded to Annelies Vredeveldt.

Our increasingly international society demands that eyewitnesses of serious crimes regularly provide testimony in cross-cultural settings, such as international criminal tribunals. This poses significant challenges for investigators and legal decision-makers. Errors in fact-finding may result in wrongful convictions and unjust acquittals. Yet, eyewitness memory research has predominantly focused on Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) witnesses.

In this research project, we assess how culture-dependent variables influence eyewitness memory. The project addresses two key objectives: (1) develop culturally modulated theory of eyewitness memory and (2) design and test evidence-based interview guidelines.

In Subproject 1, we examine what happens when police investigators interview eyewitnesses from a different cultural background. It involves the systematic coding of culture-dependent variables in video-recorded police interviews with witnesses of serious crimes in South Africa, a society with many different subcultures. The coding procedure is based on the outcomes of a focus group with academic experts and cultural informants combined with the outcomes of a critical literature review. This subproject is led by postdoctoral research fellow Laura Weiss, supervised by Annelies Vredeveldt.

In Subproject 2, we analyse the frequency, nature and legal consequences of culture-dependent variables in international criminal cases. It involves an empirical document analysis of eyewitness evidence provided at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and interviews with international legal scholars and practitioners. The document analysis is based on the outcomes of an expert panel combined with the outcomes of a scoping review of the relevant literature. This subproject is led by PhD candidate Dylan Drenk, supervised by Annelies Vredeveldt and Barbora Hola.

In Subproject 3, we assess how different cultural groups encode, store and retrieve memories, and how memory reports are evaluated in immigration contexts. It involves a series of experiments in which the objective and perceived characteristics of statements provided by participants originating from Sub-Saharan Africa are compared to a matched Western European control group. This subproject is led by PhD candidate Gabi de Bruïne, supervised by Annelies Vredeveldt and Peter van Koppen.

The project integrates analyses of video, document and experimental data to provide insight into culture-dependent variables in eyewitness memory. The new theory will enable researchers to steer away from the present WEIRD bias in legal psychology. The interview guidelines will help investigators obtain better information from witnesses.

For more information, EU Research magazine has also published an article on the project, which can be read below or downloaded here.

Credits EU Research AUT20/P54