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Older Adults May Be Unreliable Eyewitness, Study Shows

A new study suggests that older adults are not only more inclined than younger adults to make errors in recollecting details//, but are also more likely to have a very high level of confidence in their recollections, even when wrong. The finding has implications regarding the reliability of older persons’ eyewitness testimonies in courtrooms.

“There are potentially significant practical implications to these results as confident but mistaken eyewitness testimony may be the largest cause of wrongful convictions in the United States,” said Chad Dodson, the study’s lead researcher and an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. “Given that older adults will constitute an increasing proportion of the U.S. population, there may be a corresponding increase in the occurrence of wrongful convictions based on the testimony of highly confident but mistaken eyewitnesses.”

Dodson and U.Va. graduate student Lacy Krueger studied “suggestibility errors,” instances where people come to believe that a particular event occurred, when in fact, the event was merely suggested to them and did not actually occur.

They found through a series of experiments that when younger and older adults were matched on their overall memory for experienced events, both groups showed comparable rates of suggestibility errors in which they claimed to have seen events in a video that had been suggested in a subsequent questionnaire. However, older adults were “alarmingly” likely to commit these suggestibility errors when they were most confident about the correctness of their response. Younger people were more likely to commit these errors when they were uncertain about the accuracy of their response.

Previous studies by other investigators have shown that older adults are more likely than younger people to “remember” events that did not occur, and to misremember events that did occur. The U.Va. study further suggest that this occurs b
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