Impact of Expert Testimony on the Believability of Repressed Memories


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Abstract

Research suggests that people question the believability of trial testimony based on an alleged victim's previously repressed memories. Participants read one of six scenarios depicting the trial of a man accused of sexually assaulting a young girl. The alleged victim either reported the assault immediately (child witness) or waited 20 years to report it (adult witness). In the adult witness condition, the woman's memory for the event had either been repressed until recently or had always been available, and expert testimony was offered on behalf of the defense, the prosecution, both, or neither. Regression analyses revealed that women perceived the accuser's testimony as more believable and the defendant's testimony as less believable than men did. Similarly, the belief in the accuser's testimony decreased and the belief in the defendant's testimony increased when the accuser was an adult in contrast to a child, and when the defense offered expert testimony in contrast to its absence. In addition, guilty verdicts were associated with higher levels of accuser believability, lower levels of defendant believability and testimony based on repressed memories in contrast to testimony based on memories that were never repressed.

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