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Researchers have suggested that incidents involving the presenceof a weapon will have a negative impact on eyewitness performance (Kassin etal.

, 2001). This phenomenon is referred to as the weapon focus effect (Loftuset al., 1987). The presence of a weapon captures the attention of an eyewitness,decreasing their ability to recall an accurate description of the perpetrator (Pickelet al., 2003) and resulting in diminished identification accuracy in subsequentsuspect line-ups (Loftus et al., 1987).

Therefore, the presence of a gun inthis case study could be a key factor that contributed to the misidentificationand wrongful conviction of Odom.  The mechanisms underlying the weapon focus effect are largely unclear,however, most of studies in this area are based on two theoreticalexplanations: the arousal/threat hypothesis and the unusual item hypothesis (Fawcettet al., 2013). Easterbrook’s (1959) cue-utilization theory is founded on the arousal/threathypothesis. It claims that physiological arousal decreases the number of environmentalcues that can be concurrently monitored. Only those cues that are the focus ofattention are utilised.

When this theory is applied to the weapon focus effect,the presence of a weapon is considered threatening and elevates physiologicalarousal. This results in a fixation on the weapon and decrease of peripheralstimuli, thus diminishing memory for details of the perpetrator. Whilst the arousal/threathypothesis has been supported by a number of different studies (Peters, 1988),several other studies have been unsuccessful in finding an effect (Maass , 1989). These contracting outcomes could be due to the artificialmethods used to elicit arousal and the problems with defining arousal. Forexample, the arousal caused in real crimes could be a result of anxiety, fear oran increased state of alertness (Hope & Wright, 2007). Thesedifferent sources of physiological arousal may influence memory recall differentially(Fawcett et al., 2013).

 Instead of associating increased levels of arousal withattentional narrowing, other research has shown that unusualness can alsoinfluence the attention of a witness (Antes, 1974). Surprising or unexpectedobjects attract the observer’s attention compared to objects that are expectedgiven the scene’s content (Loftus & Mackworth, 1978). The unusual item hypothesis considersweapons to be unusual in many contexts. In this instance, the victim in ourcase study would not commonly associate the presence of a gun in her apartmentand therefore the victim’s attentional resources would be focused on resolvingthe conflict existing between the gun and the schema representing herenvironment. As a result details of the perpetrator would not be properlyencoded. This explanation has been supported by a growing number of studiesdemonstrating this effect with unusual objects instead of weapons (Pickel, 1998).In addition, weapon focus effect does not occur in situations where weaponswould be expected, for example at a shooting range (Pickel, 1999).

Thesefindings are explained by the unusual item hypothesis, but not by the arousal/threathypothesis.Oneof the major limitations with the majority of studies that support these hypothesesis the disconnection between the circumstances involved in witnessing of a realcrime and the circumstances involved in the laboratory research being conducted.Some of the simulation and laboratory studies only expose participants to aweapon for a brief period of time and then conduct a memory test shortlyafterwards (reference). In real situations perpetrator identifications rarely happensthis soon after the crime. For instance, in this case study the victim wasasked to view photos of possible suspects five weeks after the event.

Furthermore,there is a lack research exploring weapon exposure duration within the experimentalweapon focus literature (Fawcett et al., 2013). It is important for additionalstudies to explore in more detail the relationship between retention interval,exposure duration and weapon focus (Fawcett et al.

, 2013). Despitethese differing explanations, research has consistently demonstrated that thepresence of a weapon has a negative effect on both feature and identificationaccuracy under controlled conditions (Pickel, 2007). However, field and archivalstudies have failed to produce a reliable effect of weapon presence (Cooper etal.

, 2002; Valentine et al., 2003). This suggests that weapon focus iscurrently limited to laboratory and simulation experiments. Fawcett et al (2013)are not convinced with this outcome and instead argue that this affect is presentoutside the labResearchers have suggested that incidents involving the presenceof a weapon will have a negative impact on eyewitness performance (Kassin etal., 2001).

This phenomenon is referred to as the weapon focus effect (Loftuset al., 1987). The presence of a weapon captures the attention of an eyewitness,decreasing their ability to recall an accurate description of the perpetrator (Pickelet al., 2003) and resulting in diminished identification accuracy in subsequentsuspect line-ups (Loftus et al., 1987). Therefore, the presence of a gun inthis case study could be a key factor that contributed to the misidentificationand wrongful conviction of Odom. The mechanisms underlying the weapon focus effect are largely unclear,however, most of studies in this area are based on two theoreticalexplanations: the arousal/threat hypothesis and the unusual item hypothesis (Fawcettet al., 2013).

Easterbrook’s (1959) cue-utilization theory is founded on the arousal/threathypothesis. It claims that physiological arousal decreases the number of environmentalcues that can be concurrently monitored. Only those cues that are the focus ofattention are utilised. When this theory is applied to the weapon focus effect,the presence of a weapon is considered threatening and elevates physiologicalarousal. This results in a fixation on the weapon and decrease of peripheralstimuli, thus diminishing memory for details of the perpetrator.

Whilst the arousal/threathypothesis has been supported by a number of different studies (Peters, 1988),several other studies have been unsuccessful in finding an effect (Maass , 1989). These contracting outcomes could be due to the artificialmethods used to elicit arousal and the problems with defining arousal. Forexample, the arousal caused in real crimes could be a result of anxiety, fear oran increased state of alertness (Hope & Wright, 2007). Thesedifferent sources of physiological arousal may influence memory recall differentially(Fawcett et al., 2013).

 Instead of associating increased levels of arousal withattentional narrowing, other research has shown that unusualness can alsoinfluence the attention of a witness (Antes, 1974). Surprising or unexpectedobjects attract the observer’s attention compared to objects that are expectedgiven the scene’s content (Loftus & Mackworth, 1978). The unusual item hypothesis considersweapons to be unusual in many contexts. In this instance, the victim in ourcase study would not commonly associate the presence of a gun in her apartmentand therefore the victim’s attentional resources would be focused on resolvingthe conflict existing between the gun and the schema representing herenvironment.

As a result details of the perpetrator would not be properlyencoded. This explanation has been supported by a growing number of studiesdemonstrating this effect with unusual objects instead of weapons (Pickel, 1998).In addition, weapon focus effect does not occur in situations where weaponswould be expected, for example at a shooting range (Pickel, 1999). Thesefindings are explained by the unusual item hypothesis, but not by the arousal/threathypothesis.Oneof the major limitations with the majority of studies that support these hypothesesis the disconnection between the circumstances involved in witnessing of a realcrime and the circumstances involved in the laboratory research being conducted.Some of the simulation and laboratory studies only expose participants to aweapon for a brief period of time and then conduct a memory test shortlyafterwards (reference).

In real situations perpetrator identifications rarely happensthis soon after the crime. For instance, in this case study the victim wasasked to view photos of possible suspects five weeks after the event. Furthermore,there is a lack research exploring weapon exposure duration within the experimentalweapon focus literature (Fawcett et al., 2013).

It is important for additionalstudies to explore in more detail the relationship between retention interval,exposure duration and weapon focus (Fawcett et al., 2013). Despitethese differing explanations, research has consistently demonstrated that thepresence of a weapon has a negative effect on both feature and identificationaccuracy under controlled conditions (Pickel, 2007). However, field and archivalstudies have failed to produce a reliable effect of weapon presence (Cooper etal., 2002; Valentine et al., 2003).

This suggests that weapon focus iscurrently limited to laboratory and simulation experiments. Fawcett et al (2013)are not convinced with this outcome and instead argue that this affect is presentoutside the laboratory but obscured by the complexities of real-world crime. The findings from the current literature need to beconsidered when developing public policy on the credibility of the weapon focusphenomenon in a court of law (Fawcett et al, 2013). Given the generalfailure to identify any negative impact of weapon presence in the real world,some researchers have suggested that the weapon focus effect should bedismissed as irrelevant to the topic of eyewitness testimony. This argument hasbeen supported by two major governmental reports issued in both the USA (Mecklenburg,2006) and the UK (Pike et al.

, 2002).However, some researchers argue that it would be beneficial prosecutionand defence lawyers to hear expert evidence concerning weapon focus in relevantcases to assure witness testimony does not lead to miscarriages of justice (Fawcett etal., 2013).oratory but obscured by the complexities of real-world crime. The findings from the current literature need to beconsidered when developing public policy on the credibility of the weapon focusphenomenon in a court of law (Fawcett et al, 2013). Given the generalfailure to identify any negative impact of weapon presence in the real world,some researchers have suggested that the weapon focus effect should bedismissed as irrelevant to the topic of eyewitness testimony.

This argument hasbeen supported by two major governmental reports issued in both the USA (Mecklenburg,2006) and the UK (Pike et al., 2002).However, some researchers argue that it would be beneficial prosecutionand defence lawyers to hear expert evidence concerning weapon focus in relevantcases to assure witness testimony does not lead to miscarriages of justice (Fawcett etal., 2013).

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