Intoxicated Eyewitnesses: The Effects of Alcohol on Eyewitness Recall across Repeated Interviews

DOI: 10.4236/ojmp.2013.23017   PDF   HTML     5,324 Downloads   9,249 Views   Citations


The study evaluated the usefulness of repeat-interviewing of witnesses to crimes who were intoxicated by alcohol at the time of the incident and their first interview, and then re-interviewed when not intoxicated the following day. Sixty young, social drinkers were divided into three groups. One group was given a “placebo” (alcohol-like) beverage, a second was given a “low dose” of alcohol (0.2 g/kg men; 0.17 g/kg women), and a third was given a “high dose” of alcohol (0.6 g/kg men; 0.52 g/kg women) over a 15 minute period. Twenty minutes later they viewed a 4-minute video of a crime, and afterwards they were given two opportunities to recall everything that they could remember from the incident; the first opportunity was immediately after the event, and the second was 24 hours later. Analyses of the quantity and accuracy of the details recalled revealed no overall increase in the total amount of information recalled between the first and second recall opportunities. However, on average, 18% of the details recalled by participants in the second test were new and accurate. The incidence of contradictions between the first and second recall opportunities was less than 1%. Surprisingly, none of the effects were influenced by alcohol, even at the highest dose. The results imply that 1) memory for at least some incidents observed under the influence of alcohol is resilient even up to relatively high blood-alcohol levels; and 2) the repeated interviewing of witnesses who were intoxicated at the time of the crime can reveal additional, reliable information that is not present at the initial interview, just as is the case for non-intoxicated witnesses.

Share and Cite:

La Rooy, D. , Nicol, A. and Terry, P. (2013) Intoxicated Eyewitnesses: The Effects of Alcohol on Eyewitness Recall across Repeated Interviews. Open Journal of Medical Psychology, 2, 107-114. doi: 10.4236/ojmp.2013.23017.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] J. R. Evans, N. S. Compo and M. B. Russano, “Intoxicated Witnesses and Suspects: Procedures and Prevalence According to Law Enforcement,” Psychology Public Policy and Law, Vol. 15, No. 3, 2009, pp. 194-221. doi:10.1037/a0016837
[2] G. H. Gudjonsson, I. C. H. Clare, S. Rutter and J. Pearse, “Persons at Risk during Interviews in Police Custody: The Identification of Vulnerabilities,” Research Study No. 12, The Royal Commission on Criminal Justice, HMSO, London, 1993.
[3] U. Haggard-Grann, J. Hallqvist, N. Langstrom and J. Moller, “The Role of Alcohol and Drugs in Triggering Criminal Violence: A Case Crossover Study,” Addiction, Vol. 101, No. 1, 2006, pp. 100-108. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2005.01293.x
[4] G. Palk, J. Davey and J. Freeman, “Prevalence and Characteristics of Alcohol-Related Incidents Requiring Police Attendance,” Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, Vol. 68, No. 4, 2007, pp. 575-581.
[5] K. Van Oorsouw and H. Merckelbach, “The Effects of Alcohol on Crime Related Memories: A Field Study,” Applied Cognitive Psychology, Vol. 26, No. 1, 2012, pp. 82-90. doi:10.1002/acp.1799
[6] J. C. Yuille and P. A. Tollestrup, “Some Effects of Alcohol on Eyewitness Memory,” Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 75, No. 3, 1990, pp. 268-273. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.75.3.268
[7] N. S. Compo, J. R. Evans, R. N. Carol, D. Villalba, L. S. Ham, T. Garcia and S. Rose, “Intoxicated Eyewitnesses: Better Than Their Reputation?” Law and Human Behavior, Vol. 36, No. 2, 2012, pp. 77-86. doi:10.1037/h0093951
[8] J. A. E. Gilbert and R. P. Fisher, “The Effects of Varied Retrieval Cues on Reminiscence in Eyewitness Memory,” Applied Cognitive Psychology, Vol. 20, No. 6, 2006, pp. 723-739. doi:10.1002/acp.1232
[9] S. Bluck, L. J. Levine and T. M. Laulhere, “Autobiographical Remembering and Hypermnesia: A Comparison of Older and Younger Adults,” Psychology and Aging, Vol. 14, No. 4, 1999, pp. 671-682. doi:10.1037/0882-7974.14.4.671
[10] B. H. Bornstien, L. M. Liebel and N. C. Scarberry, “Repeated Testing in Eyewitness Memory: A Means to Improve Recall of a Negative Emotional Event,” Applied Cognitive Psychology, Vol. 12, No. 2, 1998, pp. 119-131. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1099-0720(199804)12:2<119::AID-ACP500>3.0.CO;2-4
[11] D. Dunning and L. B. Stern, “Examining the Generality of Eyewitness Hypermnesia: A Close Look at Time Delay and Question Type,” Applied Cognitive Psychology, Vol. 6, No. 7, 1992, pp. 643-657. doi:10.1002/acp.2350060707
[12] F. Gabbert, L. Hope, R. P. Fisher and K. Jamieson, “Protecting against Misleading Post-Event Information with a Self-Administered Interview,” Applied Cognitive Psychology, Vol. 26, No. 4, 2012, pp. 568-575. doi:10.1002/acp.2828
[13] D. La Rooy, M.-E. Pipe and J. E. Murray, “Reminiscence and Hypermnesia in Children’s Eyewitness Memory,” Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, Vol. 90, No. 3, 2005, pp. 235-254. doi:10.1016/j.jecp.2004.11.002
[14] E. Scrivner and M. A. Safer, “Eyewitnesses Show Hypermnesia for Details about a Violent Event,” Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 73, No. 3, 1988, pp. 371-377. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.73.3.371
[15] C. J. Brainerd, V. F. Reyna, M. L. Howe and J. Kingma, “The Development of Forgetting and Reminiscence,” Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, Vol. 55, No. 3-4, 1990.
[16] J. T. Hartley, I. M. Birnbaum and E. S. Parker, “Alcohol and Storage Deficits: Kind of Processing?” Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior, Vol. 17, No. 5, 1978, pp. 635-647. doi:10.1016/S0022-5371(78)90392-4
[17] B. M. Jones and M. K. Jones, “Alcohol and Memory Impairment in Male and Female Social Drinkers,” In: I. M. Birnbaum and E. S. Parker, Eds., Alcohol and Human Memory, Wiley Press, New York, 1976, pp. 127-138.
[18] N. S. Compo, J. R. Evans, R. N. Carol, D. Kemp, D. Villalba, L. S. Ham and S. Rose, “Alcohol Intoxication and Memory for Events: A Snapshot of Alcohol Myopia in a Real-World Drinking Scenario,” Memory, Vol. 19, No. 2, 2011, pp. 202-210. doi:10.1080/09658211.2010.546802
[19] J. E. Dysart, R. C. L. Lindsay, T. K. MacDonald and C. Wicke, “The Intoxicated Witness: Effects of Alcohol on Identification Accuracy from Showups,” Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 87, No. 1, 2002, pp. 170-175. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.87.1.170
[20] D. La Rooy, M. E. Lamb and M.-E. Pipe, “Repeated Interviewing: A Critical Evaluation of the Risks and Potential Benefits,” In: K. Kuehnle and M. Connell, Eds., The Evaluation of Child Sexual Abuse Allegations: A Comprehensive Guide to Assessment and Testimony, Wiley, Hoboken, 2009, pp. 327-361.
[21] E. A. Maylor, P. M. A. Rabbitt, A. Sahgal and C. Wright, “Effects of Alcohol on Speed and Accuracy in Choice Reaction Time and Visual Search,” Acta Psychologica, Vol. 65, No. 2, 1987, pp. 147-163. doi:10.1016/0001-6918(87)90024-2
[22] H. M. Lloyd and P. J. Rogers, “Mood and Cognitive Performance Improved by a Small Amount of Alcohol Given with a Lunchtime Meal,” Behavioural Pharmacology, Vol. 8, No. 2-3, 1997, pp. 188-195.
[23] M. L. Selzer, F. E. Vanosdall and M. Chapman, “Alcoholism in a Problem Driver Group: Field Trial of Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test (MAST),” Journal of Safety Research, Vol. 3, No. 4, 1971, pp. 176-181.
[24] P. Terry, M. Doumas, R. I. Desai and A. M. Wing, “Dissociations between Motor Timing, Motor Coordination, and Time Perception after the Administration of Alcohol or Caffeine,” Psychopharmacology, Vol. 202, No. 4, 2009, pp. 719-729. doi:10.1007/s00213-008-1352-z
[25] K. S. Birak, S. Higgs and P. Terry, “Conditioned Tolerance to the Effects of Alcohol on Inhibitory Control in Humans,” Alcohol and Alcoholism, Vol. 46, No. 6, 2011, pp. 686-693. doi:10.1093/alcalc/agr084
[26] D. Davis and R. A. Leo, “Acute Suggestibility in Police Interrogation in the USA: Self-regulation Failure as a Primary Mechanism of Vulnerability,” In: A. M. Ridley, F. Gabbert and D. J. La Rooy, Eds., Suggestibility in Legal Contexts: Psychological Research and Forensic Implications, Wiley-Blackwell, 2012, pp. 171-197.

comments powered by Disqus

Copyright © 2020 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.