The (limited) effect of emotional arousal in the regulation of accuracy in eyewitness memory

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Witnesses encoding a crime are likely to feel negative emotions with high arousal, e.g., anxiety or fear. Negative emotions improve memory for central information and impair memory for peripheral information. In this study we explored the effects of emotional arousal and type of information in the regulation of accuracy. The regulation of accuracy allows participants to maximize accuracy, for example, by deciding on the number of alternatives in their response (the plurality option). Participants were induced with high-and low-arousal negative emotions and then shown a slideshow of a crime. Afterwards, they answered questions about central and peripheral contents of the event. Questions followed the basic plurality option procedure. First, participants selected one alternative (single answer); second, they selected three alternatives (plural answer); and, finally, they decided on reporting either the single or the plural answer. Results showed successful manipulation of arousal, and that the regulation of accuracy led to a greater increase in accuracy for peripheral than for central information, but no differences depending on the level of arousal. We also identified two factors that increased accuracy in the plurality option: the ability to discard answers with low chances of being correct and the addition of answers with higher chances of being correct. Either one, or both, can increase witness accuracy.

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