Elizabeth independent variable, making it an experimental design.

Elizabeth Loftus earned her degree in mathematics and psychology from the University of California in 1966. Since then her focus has been on criminal law. Her main work consisting of eyewitness testimony, and how misleading information may affect witness encounters. Together her and John Palmer created a series of experiments to test the reliability of eyewitness testimonies. “Their hypothesis was that the language used in testimonies can alter memory. (McLeod, 2010, p.1)” They focused on two main experiments. Their experiments consist of a dependent, and independent variable, making it an experimental design. The first experiment had a sample group of 45 people. In random order, they were shown 7 car accidents, ranging from 5 to 30 seconds. Then they were each asked the same question, but Loftus used different adjectives. The question was “About how fast were the cars going when they (smashed/collided / bumped/hit /contacted) each other? (Loftus, 1975, p.274)” Each participant would experience one of the five conditions.   Through this experiment, they discovered that the adjective they used, gave the participant information about speed. Participants that were asked about the “smashed” cars thought the speed was much faster than those who were asked about the cars that “hit.” The average speed for the cars that “smashed” was 40.8 mph, followed by “collided” which was 39.3 mph, “bumped” was 38.1 mph,  “hit” was 34 mph, and finally “contacted” with 31.8 mph.This was an incredibly important finding because it gave evidence to the idea that memory can be altered. The experiment showed that the perception of the accident changed with the different verbs. The more intense words made the participants believe it to be more serious. This perception is then stored in a person’s memory of the event.They then wanted to confirm that memory could be influenced by their second experiment. They started by showing 150 students a one minute video of a car crash. Then the participants answered a question.  Similar to the first experiment, the question was the same except for the verb used. This time the only verbs used were hit and smashed. 50 participants were asked “how fast was the car going when they hit each other?’, another 50 was asked ‘how fast was the car going when they smashed each other?’ Then 50 weren’t asked either question, for the control. Then a week later they were asked to take a survey. They didn’t get to see the video again but were asked a series of ten questions. One of which being “did you see any glass?”   Participants who were asked how fast the cars were going when they “smashed” were more likely to report seeing broken glass. In control group 13% of the participates “saw” broken glass, the hit group 16% “saw” the glass, and in the smashed group 47% of participants “saw” the broken glass. No physical or emotional harm happened to the subjects. They were all well informed of what the experiment would entail. So no psychology ethics were violated. The biggest strength of this experiment is how easy it is to replicate. It could continue to be tested and copied over again. The biggest weakness is the lacking of real-world implications. Because this is a video and not a real-life situation a person’s reaction is different. There are no real emotions, and trauma watching a video, as there would be witnessing a real-life car crash. Not only that, but the sample used to test this experiment was composed purely of students from the school (Loftus undergraduate students of psychology at University of Washington), and not random samples. Having a biased sample or one that lacks diversity is a huge weakness for an experiment because it doesn’t test the general population, but instead tests a specific group. The experiment would be stronger if the sample was random, so the data could be applied to everyone and not just students. If we were to do the experiment ourselves, we would try and add real-world implications. Talk to actual eyewitnesses of a car crash or witnesses to another surprising event. We would also go to a public place and randomly select people for this experiment to increase the validity.This experiment is incredibly important for not only psychology but criminal justice in general. This changes the way police and lawyers should ask questions to witnesses.  If the memory representation can be altered, this could change an eyewitness testimony in a court of law, which in many cases is crucial.