Credibility and Bias Reasoning Skills Help (page 3)

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Updated on Sep 28, 2011

Special Case: Eyewitness Credibility

One of the most difficult but important times to determine credibility is when there are eyewitnesses to a crime or other incident. Unfortunately, just because someone was at the scene doesn't mean his or her account is credible. One obvious factor that can interfere with witness credibility is bias. Let's say two coworkers, Andrea and Brady, get in a fight. There are three witnesses. Al is friends with Andrea; Bea is friends with Brady; and Cecil is friends with both Andrea and Brady. Chances are that what Al "saw" will favor Andrea and what Bea saw will favor Brady. What Cecil saw, however, will probably be closest to the unbiased truth.

Other factors can also interfere with witness credibility. If an incident occurs at a bar, for example, we have several possible interferences. It was probably dark, smoky, and noisy, and the witnesses may have been drinking, tired, or simply not paying very much attention to their surroundings.

In all eyewitness accounts, the longer the time between the event and the time of questioning, the more unreliable the account of the witness will most likely be. Think for a minute about your childhood. Did you ever tell a story about something that happened when you were little, only to be corrected by a parent or sibling who says, "That's not what happened"? Their version is different. Why? Because our memory fades quickly and can be influenced by our own ideas about ourselves and others.

Thus, there are at least four factors that influence the credibility of eyewitnesses:

  1. Bias
  2. Environment
  3. Physical and emotional condition of the witness
  4. Time between event and recollection of event

Have you ever been hanging out with a group of friends and all of you have seen something happen—like an accident, a fight or a surprise? What do you think would happen if a police officer asked each of you to describe what you had seen? Chances are, each one of you would have a slightly different version. Everyone would be telling the truth, but from his or her own perspective and through his or her filters. That is why eyewitnesses may have the best of intentions—but still be quite wrong.

Credibility and Bias Reasoning Skills In Short

When you're making decisions and solving problems, it's important to consider the credibility of your sources. To determine whether a source is trustworthy, you must first rule out the potential for bias and then evaluate the source's level of expertise. Expertise is determined by education, experience, job or position, reputation, and achievements. Eyewitness credibility, on the other hand, must take into consideration the witness's potential for bias, the environment, the condition of the witness, and the time lapse between the event and the witness's recollection of the event.

Skill Building until Next Time

  • As you talk to others today and hear any of their opinions or tentative truths, think about their credibility. What biases might they have, if any? What is their level of expertise? Remember, a source's credibility can change depending upon the subject matter of the claim.
  • Watch a detective or legal drama, like Without a Trace, Judging Amy, or Law & Order. As you watch, pay particular attention to how the detectives and lawyers determine the credibility of their witnesses and others involved in the case.

Exercises for this concept can be found at Credibility and Bias Practice.

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