Speaking is silver, writing is golden? The role of cognitive and social factors in written versus spoken witness accounts

M. Sauerland, A.C. Krix, N. van Kan, S. Glunz, A. Sak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Contradictory empirical findings and theoretical accounts exist that are in favor of either a written or a spoken superiority effect. In this article, we present two experiments that put the recall modality effect in the context of eyewitness reports to another test. More specifically, we investigated the role of cognitive and social factors in the effect. In both experiments, participants watched a videotaped staged crime and then gave spoken or written accounts of the event and the people involved. In Experiment 1, 135 participants were assigned to written, spoken-videotaped, spoken-distracted, or spoken-voice recorded conditions to test for the impact of cognitive demand and social factors in the form of interviewer presence. Experiment 2 (N = 124) tested the idea that instruction comprehensiveness differentially impacts recall performance in written versus spoken accounts. While there was no evidence for a spoken superiority effect, we found some support for a written superiority effect for description quantity, but not accuracy. Furthermore, any differences found in description quantity as a function of recall modality could be traced back to participants' free reports. Following up with cued open-ended questions compensated for this effect, although at the expense of description accuracy. This suggests that current police practice of arbitrarily obtaining written or spoken accounts is mostly unproblematic.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)978-992
Number of pages15
JournalMemory & Cognition
Volume42
Issue number6
Early online date17 Mar 2014
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2014

Keywords

  • Eyewitness testimony
  • Recall modality
  • Recall instructions
  • Interviewer presence
  • Cognitive load
  • WORKING-MEMORY CAPACITY
  • INDIVIDUAL-DIFFERENCES
  • STRATEGIC REGULATION
  • EXECUTIVE ATTENTION
  • PREFRONTAL CORTEX
  • RANDOM GENERATION
  • TASK
  • FACILITATION
  • INTERVIEW
  • AGREEMENT

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