Forensic psychology
Forensic psychology

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Forensic psychology

Week 3: Seeing and not seeing


Start this week by watching the weekly video with Graham and Catriona.

Download this video clip.Video player: ou_futurelearn_psychology_vid_1006.mp4
Skip transcript


Hello and welcome to the third week of this course. So far, we've looked at how unreliable our memories can be, and how suggestible they are.
The two eyewitnesses to the armed robbery remembered quite different things. Either because they'd forgotten details of what happened or simply did not notice everything that was going on.
One way that psychologists have researched the mind is through examining cognitive processes of perception, attention and memory. This week we'll see that just because our eyes perceive something, does not mean that we necessarily notice it.
Our memories don't work like a computer. Instead we construct stories of the events we have seen in the past, and we'll see that in doing this we can be open to suggestion from others and can even sometimes think we remember seeing things that we did not see.
You'll also get to test your own powers of observation. And see how witnesses are affected by stress and the presence of a weapon.
Good luck, see you next week.
End transcript
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

For a witness to remember something, they first need to see it and notice it. It goes without saying that you cannot remember something if you did not see it. But is it possible to see something, but not notice it?

In producing their initial statements, both Lila and Seth had to make use of their memory for the crime. In Week 2, you considered the reliability of witness memory, particularly for certain types of information.

The branch of psychology that studies the mental processes used by the brain is known as cognitive psychology, and it divides the way the brain deals with information into sets of different processes:

  • Perception – refers to how the mind interprets the information that is received by our senses (such as sight and hearing). For example, the light that enters our eyes is transformed by the brain into electrical impulses that are analysed to allow us to make sense of the world around us.
  • Attention – is the processes involved in noticing different things around us. As you sit here reading this page, it is likely that the only thing you are attending to is this text, but of course you are also perceiving a great deal of additional information about the world around you. Attentional processes therefore allow us to focus on just part of our environment.
  • Memory – allows us to encode, store and then later retrieve the information that has been perceived and attended to. Of course, not all the information we see and notice is remembered, and even the information that is stored in memory may be quite different to what we actually saw.

So far you have been concentrating on the memory of an eyewitness, but now you’ll consider the roles played by perception and attention. One key question to ask here, is what do witnesses tend to notice, and is it possible for a witness to completely miss a significant event that happens right in front of them?


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371