Friday, February 09, 2007

Are Words Important?

The effect of changing a single word in questions has been tested by psychologists Loftus and Palmer in the context of eye witness statements. In one example participants were shown a 30 second videotape of 2 cars colliding, then they were asked questions about the collision. Some participants were asked "About how fast were the cars going when they hit?’ For other people the word ‘hit’ was replaced by ‘smashed’, ‘collided’, ‘bumped’ or ‘contacted’. These words have very different connotations regarding both the speed and force of impact, and this was reflected in the estimated speeds given.

People who heard ‘smashed’ gave a speed estimate of 40.8 miles per hour (mph), people who heard ‘collided’ gave an estimate of 39.3 mph, people who heard ‘bumped’ gave an estimate of 38.1 mph, people who heard ‘hit’ gave an estimate of 34.0 mph and people who heard ‘contacted’ gave an estimate of 31.8 mph. The significance between ‘smashed’ and ‘contacted’ gave a change in the estimated speed of 9mph. In other words, witnesses are potentially highly suggestible and words are important.This article is being published in this weeks Medico Legal Brief Update Newsletter
However, one person who understandably may not wish to think about this study is David Milliband, following his words on Question Time yesterday: "I predict that when I come back on this programme... people will be saying ‘wouldn’t it be great to have that Blair back because we can’t stand that Gordon Brown’ ".


QUASAR9 said...

Interesting I presume the speeds were given as multiple choice along with the word.

I would say smashed as anything from 40mph to accelerators and colliders smashing particle speeds

Bumped I would say as in having caused no serious damage, or maybe knocking a pedestrian kind of speed at 20 mph or less

The other words of course I would use at varying speeds - of course you can hit another car without crashing, and you can kill a pedestrian by hitting them with a car - sending them flying into the air, and cracking their heads open when they 'hit' the ground.

Michelle said...

I totally agree with the findings, not surprised one little bit.
Thanks so much for visiting my blog, you have some super posts....i shall return!

Dr Michelle Tempest said...

Thanks quasar9 and michelle for your comments. Michelle