There was a significant difference in the estimated speed of the car (mph) across the bumped, collided and smashed conditions, F (df 2, df 27) = 19.286 MS error= 13.296 p. <0.05. Analytical comparisons showed that there was no significant difference between the estimated speeds of the bumped and collided conditions: F (df 2,df 27)= 1.3 p >0.05, and that there was a significant difference between the collided and smashed conditions: F (df 2,df 27)= 13.65 p< 0.05. There was also a significant difference between the final Smashed and Bumped conditions: F (df 2, df 27)= 17.54 p< 0.05.
Discussion Results were consistent with Loftus and Palmer’s (1974) research; that leading questions can affect a participant’s response. It appears from the results of this study that the findings of Loftus and Palmer, that the wording of a question can alter responses, are still applicable to the modern day. However, this study is limited in some aspects. For example, for issues of time and practicality, it was impossible to follow up the participants after a considerable amount of time and question them about the car incident clip they watched, as Loftus and Palmer (1974) did in their original study. In addition, Loftus and Palmer (1974) showed seven film clips of car incidents. Again, this was not possible in this small scale replication due to time and practical limitations.
It is also debateable as to whether the choices of verb (bumped, collided and smashed) were appropriate for this study. Loftus and Palmer (1974) used 5 different verbs; smashed, collided, bumped, hit, and contacted. It may have been more effective in this study to have used verbs that vary more in severity. In particular, it can be argued that the verbs ‘bumped’ and ‘collided’ are too similar in severity. It’s also well known that people tend to interpret some words differently and his may too have affected the results of the study. One way of overcoming this could have been to ask the participants to rate the words in order of severity once they have completed the experiment, by doing this we could have gained complete certainty that the words used were effective.
The laboratory setting has also been criticised for creating an artificial environment. This raises issues of ecological validity, as participants are unlikely to act the same in the laboratory as in court. In addition, the emotional states involved when witnessing a real life car incident had been eliminated as its unlikely that by watching a video that the normal levels of stress encountered from viewing a crash would occur. This may also have affected the accounts given by the eye-witnesses.
One possible explanation for the results found and explaining the behaviour discovered in psychological terms could be because firstly the information is achieved primarily from the perception of the event. Then possibly external information after the event has occurred interferes with the original perception of the event. These two factors then integrate with one another to such an extent it is difficult to distinguish what was recalled at the time of the event or afterwards. Simply there is one memory to hold all of this information so it’s likely that inference will occur. In terms of the current study, participants formed a representation of the crash.
The study successfully supports the hypothesis that the more extreme the verb used is, the higher the estimation of speed reported will be. However there are many areas which could have been looked it to further in order to ensure that the results found are even more reliable.
Loftus, E. F., & Palmer, J. C. (1974). Reconstruction of Automobile Destruction: An Example of the Interaction Between Language and Memory. Journal of verbal learning and verbal behaviour 13, 585-589. Washington: Academic Press Hinton, P. Statistics explained (2004). Statistics explained (2nd edition). East sussex: Routledge.