The study of memory belongs to the cognitive area of psychology. The theory of reconstructivememory refers to memory recall as an active cognitive process that involves reconstructing pastexperiences (Roediger, DeSoto, n.
a). Information received as input from the surroundingenvironment is interpreted, and are then maintained and stored. However, the process ofretrieving memory can be affected by a multitude of factors and can distort what is recalled.Bartlett proposed that memory is subjected to an individual’s interpretation and can beinfluenced by one’s cultural norms and schemas (McLeod, 2009). This suggests that memory isconstructed with relevant schematic information, rather than an accurate reproduction of whatwas actually witnessed.Bartlett (1932) conducted a study investigating the impact of schemas on memory. TwentyEnglish participants read a story called ‘War of the Ghosts’ and were asked to recall the story atdifferent time intervals.
Results showed that the story was changed and distorted upon recall.The story became more rationalised and clichéd.The length of the story became shorter after sixto seven times of recalling (Law, Halkiopoulos and Bryan-Zaykov, 2010). Because schemas canact as detail fillers, relevant schemas helped participants make sense of the information and fillin gaps with appropriate existing information. Therefore it was concluded that western schemasinfluenced how participants interpreted the information and later recalled the story. Hence, thisdemonstrates that one’s memory recall is vulnerable to be reconstructed under the influence ofschemas.However, perception can also influence one’s interpretation of an event, and thus can affect thereconstructive process of memory. Loftus et al.
(1987) investigated how one’s perception of anevent can influence recall. Participants overheard a conversation taking place in a room nextdoor. One condition, the no weapon condition, involved a man emerging from the room holdinga pen. The second condition was the weapon condition, whereby a man emerged from the roomholding a paper knife covered in blood. Participants were later asked to identify the man whoemerged from fifty different photographs.
Results revealed that those who witnessed the manemerging in the no weapon condition tended to be more accurate. This was explained by theweapon’s effect. The weapon influenced participant’s perception of the event, as they tended todirect their attention to the weapon instead of the person’s face, therefore resulting in lessaccurate recall of the person.
Hence, this highlights that the interpretation of information inputcan be influenced by one’s perception of the information, therefore one’s memory recall isreconstructed according to their perception and interpretation of the event.Reconstructive memory often manifests itself in the context of eyewitness testimonies. Loftusand Palmer (1974) looked into the effect of leading question on eyewitness’ ability to recallinformation. Forty five American students were asked to watch seven different car accidentvideo clips.
The critical question asked “About how fast were the cars going when theycontacted each other?” Five conditions with a different verb in the question were tested andmean speed estimates were taken for each condition1. Because memory is an active cognitiveprocess, it can be activated to remember something if certain words are used in the question.These are commonly referred to as leading questions, and are discouraged in eyewitnesstestimonies as it can trigger the reconstruction of impaired memory due to words used,decreasing the reliability of one’s recall (Law, Halkiopoulos and Bryan-Zaykov, 2010).
1 See Appendix 11Therefore the aim of this experiment was to investigate the effect of leading questions onmemory recall, specifically the change of verbs in a critical question on one’s estimation of carspeed. To do so the study from Loftus and Palmer (1974) was partially replicated, specificallyselecting ‘contacted’ and ‘smashed into’ as the two conditions tested.