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Influence of Courtroom Questioning Style on Actual and Perceived Eyewitness Confidence and Accuracy

NCJ Number
Legal and Criminological Psychology Volume: 9 Issue: 1 Dated: February 2004 Pages: 83-101
Jacqueline M. Wheatcroft; Graham F. Wagstaff; Mark R. Kebbell
Date Published
February 2004
19 pages
This article reports on two British studies that examined the influence of attorney questioning style in the courtroom on actual and perceived eyewitness confidence and accuracy.
One study investigated the effects of questioning style on witness confidence and accuracy, and the second study analyzed observers/jurors perceptions of witness confidence and accuracy. In the first study 60 subjects observed a video event, after which they were individually interviewed about the event under 3 conditions: a simple questioning style; a questioning style that contained leading and suppositional phrases typical of an attorney in the courtroom; and a negative feedback style typical of cross-examination questioning in the courtroom. This study showed that witnesses were significantly less accurate in their responses to "difficult" questions when subtle feedback was used during the attorney-type questioning compared with a simple control interview. This suggests that the feedback in attorney-type questions tends to confuse witnesses, reducing their ability to check their memories and critique discrepancies. Although witness confidence was somewhat undermined when subtle feedback was involved, witness accuracy was significantly affected only when the leading questions were accompanied by negative feedback. In the second study, participant observer/jurors were 19 males and 41 females drawn from an opportunity sample of university students. None had participated in the first study. Participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 conditions: "control" (n=20); "lawyerese" (n=20); or "lawyerese with negative feedback" (n=20). Participants in each of the three conditions heard audiotapes of voices reading from the transcripts of two witness interviews; one involved a "good" witness, and the other a "poor" witness. Findings show that the listeners were most affected by the negative feedback style, judging the witness overall to be less accurate. An unexpected finding was that, regardless of questioning style, hearing the testimony of the least confident witness first apparently spuriously boosted listeners' perceived witness' confidence and thereby perceived accuracy of the testimony. No significant effects were found for perceived fairness. These results generally support the belief that the "lawyerese" style of questioning for the purpose of gaining actual and perceived accurate testimony is unreliable. Suggestions are offered for future research in this area. 3 figures and 68 references