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How Good Are Eyewitnesses?

Posted by: Loren Coleman on May 27th, 2012

This is a short and stunning demonstration, by skeptic and psychologist Dr Richard Wiseman, that underlines the degree to which expectation can badly distort eyewitness perception — even under clear, well-lit, near-optimal viewing conditions.Daniel Loxton

About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013.


11 Responses to “How Good Are Eyewitnesses?”

  1. Outlaw109 responds:

    Those were very enjoyable videos. However, I don’t think Daniel Loxton’s comments – specifically that “the degree to which expectation can badly distort eyewitness perception” – were at all applicable.

    What was my expectation when I started watching the videos? Actually, none, because I didn’t know what they were about.

    If there were a video in which I expected to see x, actually saw y, but insisted I still saw x because that’s what I expected to see, then Mr. Loxton would be on to something. For example, tell me I’m going to see a bigfoot video, but actually show me a bear walking on two legs. If at the end of it I’m convinced that I’ve seen a bigfoot video, then we have a winner.

    What these videos show us is the art of distraction in highly controlled circumstances. I’m not sure what there is to be learned about eyewitness accuracy in regards to cryptozoology, but maybe I’m missing something.

  2. oldphilosopher responds:

    Regarding the comment of outlaw109, I feel compelled to point out that ANY experiment is conducted under “controlled circumstances.” That is a necessary condition, and is how we know that the results must hold some measure of validity.

    To determine the nature and magnitude of the validity offered, what must be further examined are the nature and magnitude of the predispositions held by the subject, and the nature and magnitude of the distractive inputs. Then, of course, the experiment must be repeatable.

  3. Champ Voucher responds:

    What a bunch of selfish ball-hogs.
    When a zone defense leaves a Gorilla unguarded,
    pass it to him !

  4. springheeledjack responds:

    We’ve gone through this before…and quite an extensive post if I recall. However, it’s apples and oranges. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not the most observant guy, and certainly capable of missing details. We all tend to focus on what’s in front of us, or more correctly, focus on what gets our attention.

    If anything, I think these vids help prove that when we see something, we all key in on different things, though the basics are still there. In the first example, we saw two people at a table with cards. In the second you had 3 people in white and three people in black shirts (not to mention the gorilla costumed person).

    I know they’re arguing that humans do tend to get distracted and focus on what they are drawn to, but that doesn’t prove that people aren’t capable of making distinctions. I’ve read enough BF reports now that what is happening is exactly the opposite. I’ve read so many accounts where people (and often hunters) are in the woods, and its the thing that’s out of the ordinary that catches their attention–whether it’s a noise, creature, etc. AND it’s not the “normal” kinds of things they’re used to or natural occurring things they encounter.

    Countless times I’ve read the statement (or variation there of) that, “It was something I hadn’t heard/seen/smelled before.” And while eye witnesses aren’t great at giving you all of the factual details, they are capable of picking up on things that stand out. A lot of eye witnesses for BF (and yes, water cryptids are still my favorite, but I’ve gotten sidetracked on this BF thing as of late), notice really small details–like that its arms are longer than normal, that its head is conical, it has little or no neck, it walks slightly slouched or bent over, and the list goes on.

    I think its the odd details that make these creatures stand out, causing people to focus on them and realize it’s not just a bear, or a guy in a suit, or a hunter.

    No, the details do get forgotten, especially in something strange, traumatic or in a lot of cases, awe inspiring. However, that doesn’t mean the witnesses (in most cases) are just creating something out of nothing. In recent times, the general masses are much more aware of BF, but in the 70’s and 80’s especially, there were plenty of people encountering things in the woods that were not bears and bob cats and people in costumes. They may have not had a name for it, but they knew they were seeing something that isn’t one of the typical animals.

  5. flame821 responds:

    What about confirmational bias? You know what you ‘expect’ to see so that is what you see. Or you know what value you expect to get out of an equation so that’s is the value you get, not noticing that the decimal is way off.

    In the medical field we worry about this a lot due to RNs or RPhs ‘accidentally’ grabbing the wrong meds (due to look alike packaging) or figuring wrong doses because they ‘know’ what it ‘should’ be and need to be reminded constantly to READ the LABEL as concentrations change, packaging changes, nothing is set in stone. You see these cases come up often in infant mortality and cardiac emergencies.

    The same holds true in other areas of life as well. If you expect to see or hear something (x) and then you see/hear (y) instead, if Y is close enough to X how many people will claim they saw/heard X since that is what they were expecting. (use a bee vs a wasp or a bear vs a bigfoot or a bird call vs a whistled tune, you get the point)

  6. Hapa responds:

    So this is supposed to help debunk cryptid sightings?

    Hhhmmmm: Then I guess we just disproved Gorillas, Orangutans, Giant Squid, etc…

  7. flame821 responds:

    It wouldn’t ‘debunk’ cryptid sightings, but I would think it would caution people against putting too much weight behind JUST eye witness accounts. There are too many variables with eyewitnesses. What are the chances of your eyewitness being a trained zoologist with a broad base of knowledge being out in the woods with a clear, several minute long sighting that also results in physical evidence? AND that zoologist would have to have nothing to gain by witnessing the animal because you know if he does someone is going to start yelling ‘follow the money’ and insist the sighting was nothing more than a publicity stunt or something of that nature. (which sucks but you know how people are)

    I think it was DWA who had this discussion a few months ago. You simply cannot weight all eyewitness accounts the same way. Some people are prone to panic, some are familiar with local wildlife, some come specifically to ‘see’ Bigfoot. And you can’t rely on lie detectors or sincerity as many witnesses will deeply, truly and sincerely believe they have seen something unexplained by science. Maybe they did, or maybe their minds filled in the blanks with what they wanted or expected to see.

    This is why, as compelling as I find eyewitness testimony to be, it won’t prove anything without physical evidence behind it. I think using eyewitness reports to narrow down areas to search is useful, particularly if there are trends as to time of year or time of day or a sudden surge in sightings as this may mean migration patterns, or loss of normal habitat or even (hopefully) mating season. And if we notice yearly patterns in reports it will probably give us our best chance at getting good physical evidence of cryptids. Those reported sightings that seem to follow berry flushes always strike me as an idea chance to get something done regarding Bigfoot. If they really are migrating to eat the berries why not use that to our advantage?

  8. JE_McKellar responds:

    If anything, these videos demonstrate how a cryptid could remain relatively unnoticed amongst an oblivious population. Most people are primed, like with the card trick, to notice what other people have told them to notice, everything from road signs to billboards. Natural phenomena pass right before their eyes, barely registering. Even outdoorsmen usually have a specific purpose in mind when they stomp through the woods, and as they scan the complex visual mass of foliage, they ignore most anything that doesn’t fit their current search pattern.

  9. DWA responds:

    Skeptics.

    Stop showing stuff like this and start paying attention to the evidence.

    Most – that is most by far – sasquatch and yeti sighters were expecting to see anything but. And described what they sighted in detail. And spent years trying to convince themselves – starting the second they saw it – that they had seen something else.

    This is totally inapplicable.

  10. DWA responds:

    JE_McKellar:

    I should have congratulated you for a – to borrow a word from Mr. Loxton – stunning post.

    Crypto may owe these people a debt of gratitude. See? THIS is how it’s happening.

  11. Dr Kaco responds:

    The episode of “Thunderbirds” on MonsterQuest showed how some folks could miss judge size by distance. There was another that shows the same miss judgement of size on a Mothman drive-by sighting test as well. Pareidolia, yada yada…We get that, and …WE GET THAT. What about the the evidence? Are we speaking about the PG film? BFRO’s audio bytes, Josh Gates’ Lobozone? ;p hehe ok kidding about that one. But I do wish there was more evidence to study rather than hard dead, killed bodies of proof.



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