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In the first experiment of Loftus and Palmer (1974) 45 students divided into 5 groups of 9, were shown 7 films of different traffic accidents lasting 5-30 seconds rom Evergreen Safety Council or the Seattle Police Department. 4/7 were staged so the speed was known.
After watching the clips, all participants were given a questionnaire. All questionnaires were structured the same, firstly "give an account of the accident you have just seen and then answer the following questions", all questions related to the accident. They then had a version of the critical question, "About how fast were the cars going when they ... with each other". Each version had a different verb. They used either CONTACTED, HIT, BUMPED,COLLIDED or SMASHED
To prevent order effects influencing the result, the group were presented with a different ordering of films. The experiment lasted 1 1/2 hours. The verb 'contacted' estimated a speed of 31.8, the verb 'hit' estimated a speed of 34, the verb 'bumped' estimated a speed of 38.1, the verb 'collided' estimated 39.3 and 'smashed' estimated 40.8. This shows that participant's estimates were not related to the actual speed of the vehicle, but it was the verb in the question which had more influence.
In the second experiment 150 American students were divided into 3 groups with 50 participants in each. They were shown a film showing a car accident which lasted 1 minute. After watching the film they were given one of 3 versions of a questionnaire, This involved asking them to describe the accident in their own words and then answer a question. Each group had one out of 3 versions, in each one the wording was different. Group 1 - "How fast were the cars going when they SMASHED into each other". Group 2- "How fast were the cars going when they HIT each other" and group 3 were not asked about the speed.
Using the verb 'smashed. estimated a speed of 10.46 whilst 'hit' estimated only 8.0. This shows a significant effect of the verb in the question on the effect on the estimate of speed. A week later the participants were asked to return and were asked 10 questions including a critical question, "Did you see any broken glass?". There was no broken glass shown in the video.
16 people said that they saw the glass in the 'smashed' verb condition, 7 said they saw glass in the 'hit' verb condition and 6 said they saw glass in the control group. The probability of saying "yes" was also calculated. These two sets of results show a significant effect of the verb in the question on the misperception of glass in the film. Probability specifically showed the probability of saying "yes" was not just related to the speed estimate, but by the verb's meaning. The leading question changed the actual memory of some of the participants.
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