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The influence of courtroom questioning style on actual and perceived eyewitness confidence and accuracy

Wheatcroft, Jacqueline M. and Wagstaff, Graham and Kebbell, Mark (2004) The influence of courtroom questioning style on actual and perceived eyewitness confidence and accuracy. Legal and criminological psychology, 9 (1). pp. 83-101. ISSN 1355-3259

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Abstract

Purpose. Little research has been conducted on the effects of courtroom examination/questioning styles on witness confidence and accuracy. Two studies were therefore conducted, one investigating the effects of examination style on witness confidence and accuracy, the other investigating observers/jurors perceptions of witness confidence and accuracy. Method. In Study 1, after observing a video event, 60 witnesses were individually interviewed about the event according to one of three conditions: (1) simple questioning style, (2) lawyerese questioning style (containing leading and suppositional phrases), and (3) lawyerese with negative feedback style. In study 2, 60 observers/ jurors observed a good and a poor witness under examination by one of the three questioning styles. Measures of the perceived fairness of the examination were also taken in study 2. Results. In the main, significant results were found only for question items classed as difficult to remember. The lawyerese style appeared to have an adverse affect on confidence-accuracy relationships. Adding subtle negative feedback reduced the problem, but at the price of reduced overall accuracy. Observers (jurors) also seemed to be most affected by observing the negative feedback style; judging the witness overall to be less accurate. An unexpected result was that, regardless of questioning style, presenting the testimony of the least confident witness first appeared to spuriously boost confidence and thereby perceived accuracy, in that witness's testimony. No significant effects were found for perceived fairness. Conclusions. In general, these results lend some support to those who have asserted that the lawyerese style of questioning may be unwise.

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