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Hugo Munsterberg’s On the Witness Stand

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For this book report, I decided to read Hugo Munsterberg’s On the Witness Stand. This book contains essays on psychology and crime and eyewitness testimony. Today this book is used as a reference for many issues in forensic psychology. For this report, I focused on two chapters of the book: Illusions and the Memory of the Witness. I am going to first summarize the two chapters I read then talk about what was going on at the time this book was written. I will then report some of the research in the book, and finish with my opinion on how this book has contributed to the literature and how it relates to the current knowledge of forensic psychology.IllusionsThe chapter on illusions starts out with a couple different scenarios in which Munsterberg describes how witnesses viewed what was going on. In the first scenario, he talked of an automobile accident and in which two individuals witnessed. He said that both of the witnesses were respectable people, yet their recollections of the road conditions, how fast the automobile was traveling, and how many bystanders were present varied greatly. The second scenario described the time between a whistle signal and the noise of an explosion. Again two witnesses were present and each one’s description of the scene was significantly different. In the final scenario described, one that took place on the sea-shore, one witness claimed that it was a women and a child standing by the sea shore, whereas another witness claimed that he saw a man with his dog. These scenarios are all pointing in the same direction and that is: witnesses to any kind of event disagree about certain important details about what just took place because of the way they perceive the event taking place.This lead Munsterberg to wonder if all individuals perceive the same thing and do the things we perceive all have the same meaning attached to them. In turn, is the court system aware of all of the differences between men’s perceptions? Munsterberg also questioned memory and the demand that is put on the memory of witnesses. To try find out the answer to some of his questions, Munsterberg conducted a couple experiments with students enrolled in one of his psychology courses at Harvard. These studies will be talked about in detail a little later.

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