Sound and Credibility in the Virtual Court: Low Audio Quality Leads to Less Favorable Evaluations of Witnesses and Lower Weighting of Evidence




Newman, Eryn
Redman, Annabel
Muir, Bethany
Tait, David
Schwarz, Norbert

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Objectives: Recent virtual court proceedings have seen a range of technological challenges, producing not only trial interruptions but also cognitive interruptions in processing evidence. Very little empirical research has focused on how the subjective experience of processing evidence affects evaluations of trial participants and trial decisions. Metacognitive research shows that the subjective ease or difficulty of processing information can affect evaluations of people, belief in information, and how a given piece of information is weighted in decision making. Hypotheses: We hypothesized that when people experienced technological challenges (e.g., poor audio quality) while listening to eyewitness accounts, the difficulty in processing evidence would lead them to evaluate a witness more negatively, influence their memory for key facts, and lead them to weigh that evidence less in final trial judgments. Method: Across three experiments (total N = 593), participants listened to audio clips of witnesses describing an event, one presented in high-quality audio and one presented in low-quality audio. Results: When people heard witnesses present evidence in low-quality audio, they rated the witnesses as less credible, reliable, and trustworthy (Experiment 1, d = 0.32; Experiment 3, d = 0.55); had poorer memory for key facts presented by the witness (Experiment 2, d = 0.44); and weighted witness evidence less in final guilt judgments (Experiment 3, η2 p =.05). Conclusion: These results show that audio quality influences perceptions of witnesses and their evidence. Because these variables can contribute to trial outcomes, audio quality warrants consideration in trial proceedings.





Law and Human Behavior


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