Details of a fascinating new study were released today in Live Science:
When people see violent or erotic images, they fail to process whatever they see next, according to new research.
Scientists are calling the effect “attentional rubbernecking.”
“We observed that people fail to detect visual images that appeared one-fifth of a second after emotional images, whereas they can detect those images with little problem after viewing neutral images,” said Vanderbilt University psychologist David Zald.
The effect is akin to rubbernecking on the highway, Zald and his colleagues say. Your brain might suggest you watch the road ahead, but your emotions force you to look at the accident on the side of the road.
Research subjects were handed a stack of pictures that included pleasant landscapes and architectural photos. They were told to search for a particular image. Negative images were placed anywhere from two to eight spots before the search target.
I haven’t read the study, so I can not attest to the methodology or the accuracy of the description quoted above, but the first thing that came to mind was the accuracy of eyewitness testimony.
While it is generally accepted within the legal community that eyewitness testimony is the least reliable evidence, many juries don’t realize this, and in case after case after case, eyewitness testimony has turned out to be just plain wrong. I am not going to go into the accuracy of eyewitness testimony, as Jeralynn Merritt has ably put forth numerous posts on the reliability of this sort of evidence.
You can see where I am going with this. If this study shows what I think it does (I need to get my hands on a copy), and further studies go more in depth and verify this, it might then be time to change the rules regarding evidence in jury trials as they pertain to eyewitness testimony. With the number of people we currently have on death row, and the number of people released very year because of DNA evidence, quite literally, lives are at stake.
And for those of you who think that I am merely parroting some sort of liberal ‘coddle criminals’ mentality, I will let you explain how convicting innocent men and letting guilty ones remain free to roam around meancing society is the ‘conservative’ position.