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On the Witness Stand

In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By interaec
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“On the Witness Stand”

Hugo Munsterberg in 1908 published “On the Witness Stand”, a collection of articles he had previously written explaining the need for experimental psychology in the court room. In reviewing several court cases, he was intrigued with the verdict based on the eyewitness testimony. Could these eyewitness testimonies be considered unreliable? Decisions based on the judge and jury through the questioning of the lawyers, disregarded the mental state of the witness. In his book, Hugo Munsterberg, explains the mind of the eyewitness through illusions, memories, emotions and suggestibility. Illusion is a perception. Munsterberg in his book describes several cases that make you wonder if each eyewitness was at the same scene. For example, when describing the road conditions, one witness claimed the road was dry while another said it was muddy. In another scenario, it was important to know the number of people present at a riot was larger than forty. One eyewitness mentioned there was no more than twenty while another said it was more than a hundred. So, is your mind playing tricks on you? In order to prove that everyone’s visual perception varies, Hugo Munsterberg developed several experiments. One of his experiments among 100 young men was to show a poster with 50 black squares for approximately five seconds. When asked how many squares the answers varied from twenty-five to two hundred squares. He continued to perform experiments based on perception of time, ink plot pictures, comparison of two colors and memory image. In his final experiment, he held a rotating color wheel in his right hand for a few minutes then started to take things out of his pocket with his left hand. There were some who were so focused on his right hand that they did not notice what his left hand was doing. These psychological experiments explained what may have…...

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