Witnesses' Perception of Meaning

by Mark A. Peterson


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Subjects presented with a videotape of a fight and disruption perceived the event in terms of meaningful generalizations. The conclusions that subjects formed remained stable over 28 days. In contrast, detailed memory rapidly deteriorated for subjects who were not required to rehearse their memory of the event. As a result, subjects increasingly reported recognizing details that supported and apparently were inferred from their general conclusions. The study showed that subjects' conclusions about meaning affect their selective attention to detail, and subjects who expected violence and disruption formed more certain general conclusions. Finally, the study indicated that repeated rehearsal may promote and even enhance accurate memory for meaningful information. Among rehearsing subjects accuracy of recognition for meaningful information showed a significant quadratic trend--increasing through seven days before returning to the original level after 28 days. Over the same period accuracy for irrelevant information showed the usual negatively accelerated trend.

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