Biases in Testimony Activity #1

The Game

The testimony game will start as a typical crime scene: witnesses of a crime previous to the crime scene often do not know that they are going to witness one. Our Emissaries are going to be told that they are going to be taken to an outdoor activity like kayaking, climbing or hiking rather than that “they are going to witness a crime”. The whole point of this approach is that, contrary to voicing out the crime completely, they will not be focused on one thing that is about to happen, rather, they will be taken by surprise. Here is a demonstration of what witnessing the crime scene looks like:

After witnessing the crime scene, students will be drawing their own individual versions of the suspect. By drawing, Emissaries will be able to consciously show the differences of each perceptions. This first step will show the subjective nature of our visual memory, and how important is, if the situation allows it, to have several witnesses assist the same crime.

Once the drawing session is over, there will be an open discussion with the ten Emissaries to point out details that each of them saw. Each Emissaries will be given pen and paper to write down details and observations that they have perceived from the suspects, while also writing down what others saw. This activity, compared to the drawing session, focuses on creating an introspective awareness of biases, flaws and assumptions. Here, Emissaries will become more aware of how persuasion and anchoring works.

There will be a meal break after the discussion so that it allows the students to create a gap between new and old emotions that can come into play, which may also affect their memory. The process of exchanging information with others can alter significantly alter their memories.

After the meal, the five suspects will be interrogated. These staff members that are playing suspects will be performing all sorts of different emotional responses: they will cry, be angry, indifferent, scared, or just simply be neutral. The idea is that they will perform these different versions of the story with different emotional responses so Emissaries are faced with the difficulty of being more vulnerable to emotional biases, which are often seen in jury trials. After all of these suspects’ stories are heard, the suspects will be taken away so that the whole camp can discuss who the guilty one and they will be given the space to voice out their reasons.

The activity will end once the Emissaries are told that the chosen suspect was in fact innocent. They will be explained that from those five actors, neither of them were part of the initial crime acting. One of the coordinator will give a three to five-minute speech about our actual justice system, and how because of all the assumptions, stereotypes and flaws that our brain is based on, these sort of scenarios are very common, and people can spend their whole lives in jail because of a wrong conviction due to eyewitness misidentification.

The thirty students will be taken to smaller groups of five to create seminar-like discussions with one coordinator monitoring the questions and conversations. The goal of this last practice is for the Emissaries to have a space where they are able to recap what they learned throughout the activity. The discussion would be about 25 to 30 minutes. Some guiding questions are included below.

Guiding Questions

  1. How were you feeling before the crime scene happened?
  2. How were you feeling after the crime scene happened?
  3. Can you remember a specific moment where your perception of the subject changed because of what someone said?
  4. How did the speeches influence who you thought was the guilty one?
  5. How did you feel when you learned that the accused one was actually not guilty?


Created with images by qimono - "philatelist stamp collection stamp"

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