Who Dunnit? Cross-Linguistic Differences In Eye-Witness Memory

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1. Experiment 1
a. The goal of Experiment 1 is to see whether there are differences in the way that people report an event depending on their linguistic framing – that is, whether they are more likely to report the event using agentive or non-agentive language for an intentional or unintentional act, depending on how their native language effects their framing of the event. The experiment was created to find the differences between, in particular, Spanish and English speakers. Spanish speakers, it is hypothesised, are more likely to use non-agentive language when describing an accident than English speakers, who will in most cases always use agentive language.

b. In the task, the participants were shown footage of a man interacting with an object, and were asked to describe what happened in the video. Each ‘interaction’ between the man and the object was shown in two different ways – one giving the impression of intention on behalf of the man and the other showing that it was an accident.

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c. (i) the dependent variables in this experiment were the different linguistic descriptions given by the participants, and whether agentive or non-agentive language was used.

(ii) In Fig 1. it is shown that the number of agentive descriptions of intentional acts in the videos were similar across both Spanish and English speakers, with a stark difference in these numbers when acts were accidental. English speakers were more likely to use agentive descriptions for both intentional and unintentional acts, with Spanish speakers using agentive descriptions similarly to describe the intentional acts, but a far larger proportion of non-agentive descriptions in the case of an accident. The first chart shows that almost all English speakers used agentive descriptions for intentional acts.

(iii) The implication of these results is that there are differences in the way that a person’s linguistic framing affects their recall and recording of an event. This means that, perhaps, in the case of criminal investigations etc, these differences need to be taken into account while questioning witnesses. This links to Experiment 2, as the idea that memory recall in eye-witness situations (like, as I mentioned before, criminal investigations) may, by the implication of the results of Exp. 1, be affected also by the person’s linguistic framing.

2. Experiment 2
a. Exp. 2 is different to Exp. 1 in that it is no longer asking the participants what happened but rather testing their memory of the consequences of an event depending on whether it was an intentional or unintentional act. The motivation for this difference is to establish whether memory recall is affected in the same way as the immediate reporting of an event when different frames of reference (linguistically) are in play.

b. The object orientation task was one in which participants were shown a series of pictures on a screen and told that their memory would be tested – but no further information given. After they were shown these pictures, they were asked to count squares as a way of distracting them from the task briefly. They were then shown the objects again in three possible positions and asked which one they had seen previously.

c. In the agent memory task, participants were shown footage from the previous experiment, in which a man interacts with an object. They were then, after another distractor task, shown another video, in which a new actor interacted with the object in the same way as they had seen previously during encoding. They were then shown pictures of the two men and asked to tell the instructors who “did it” first.

d. The authors need the object orientation task as a kind of control to see how good the participants memories are in general.

e. This experiment tells us that there is a strong relationship between differences in native language and the ability to recall events – the linguistic framing of an event that is intentional is similar cross-linguistically, whereas when an event is accidental, the recollection accuracy of the event is different between speakers of English and Spanish, with Spanish speakers finding it more difficult to remember the agent of the act in unintentional events. This is because of their use of non-agentive language in these situations.

3. General
a. The main research question underlying this paper is: does linguistic framing affect eye-witness memory? The authors hypothesise that there is.

b. From these two experiments, it is clear that the results are in support of this hypothesis. The results show that memory recall of events in which an agent performed an unintentional act was worse when the participants linguistic framing did not usually allow for an agent to be present in an unintentional act.

4. Reflection
a. One possible drawback to the design of this study is that the sample was very small, and included mostly native English speakers. With a more balanced level of participants from both English and Spanish speaking backgrounds, there may have been different results – even though it seems that this was allowed for in the way that the results were measured (with proportional representation of the results etc), this still, I feel, does not make up for the fact that only one third of the participants were Spanish speakers.

b. The difference between these two hypotheses is that where linguistic relativity posits that language simply has an impact on the way that the speaker views the world etc, linguistic determinism holds that language determines the way that we see the world – there is nothing outside of language that affects a person’s thought processes according to linguistic determinism.

c. I think that this study supports linguistic relativity, as it is clear that not every Spanish speaker was unable to recall events, and agentive language was used by some Spanish speakers to describe intentional acts, where linguistic determinism would have every Spanish

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