Sleep deprivation and false memories in eyewitnesses of legal proceedings
A recent research paper published in the journal of the Association for Psychological Science suggests that people who are deprived of sleep are prone to form false memories. In the study, people with less hours of sleep were asked to see photographs of a crime and give their observation. Sleep deprived persons gave distorted information about the photos whereas the persons who got a sound night’s sleep recollected the actual things captured in the photographs. The conclusion of the study is that if a person is not allowed to sleep for a sufficient period, it will affect his or her cognitive memory function and is prone to register false memories.
Few experiments have been conducted based on verifiable observation in connection with the actual correlation between lack of sleep and false memories in case of an eyewitness. There are some studies which deals with sleep deprived persons and their memory pattern in remembering a group of words but not persons, incidents and environments. A preliminary study conducted by Frenda and colleagues suggested that getting 5 hours of sleep or less was associated with the formation of false memories.
The following experiment was conducted to find out the impact of lack of sleep on a person’s false memories. About a hundred college students were formed into four groups. Groups were asked to view a set of photographs taken at the scene of the crime, immediately on the arrival to the lab. It was observed that those students who were sleep deprived the most were more prone to false memories. The authors suggest that this finding will definitely have significant legal implications. It has been established through surveys that in general people do not get full eight hours of sleep and sleep deprivation amongst general population is common. The dependability of eyewitnesses who have had restricted hours of sleep is highly questionable in view of the above research findings.
The author of the study, Steven J. Frenda, does mention in his concluding remarks that more scientific research is essential to enable the law enforcement authorities with reliable guidelines to ascertain that eyewitness’ memories are precise, correct, and devoid of false memories.