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Do you remember the smell? Examining odour cues on witness memory

Conference contribution
Authors Mikaela Magnusson
Sara Landström
Published in Oral presentation at the European Association of Psychology and Law (EAPL) conference. Turku, Finland: 27 June
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Psychology
Language en
Keywords odor; retrieval cue; memory recall; olfactory system
Subject categories Applied Psychology


Odours are typically identified as potent memory cues. However, the beneficial effects have been difficult to replicate in legal contexts. The purpose of the present study was to examine if odour cues could improve the quality of eyewitness testimony using two different experimental paradigms. In Experiment I, 92 mock witnesses observed a video depicting an armed robbery. All participants were exposed to a lemon odour during encoding. During a standardized self-interview, the participants were either exposed to the same odour cue, another odour (peppermint) or no odour (control condition). No significant effects of retrieval odour exposure on the quantity, nor quality, of the witness statements were observed. In Experiment II, 82 mock witnesses observed a video depicting intimate partner violence using a 2 (Encoding: vinegar odour vs. no odour) x 2 (Retrieval: vinegar odour vs. no odour) between-subjects design. No significant effects of odour exposure were observed. Interestingly, and in line with basic research, participants in both experiments had difficulties labelling the encoding odour. Many provided inaccurate labels, such as stating that they had smelled gasoline when they had been exposed to a lemon odour. These findings may have implications for the credibility of witness details pertaining to odours.

Page Manager: Webmaster|Last update: 9/11/2012

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