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LINGUIST List 22.3678

Wed Sep 21 2011

FYI: Interpretation of a Crisis Call - Results

Editor for this issue: Brent Miller <brentlinguistlist.org>

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        1.     Helen Fraser , Interpretation of a Crisis Call - Results

Message 1: Interpretation of a Crisis Call - Results
Date: 21-Sep-2011
From: Helen Fraser <helenbfrasergmail.com>
Subject: Interpretation of a Crisis Call - Results
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Thanks to all those who participated in the experiment we ran a few
months back using the audio from a real legal case to test the effects of
priming on the interpretation of a disputed utterance - and to all those
who circulated the link and helped us reach 190 participants from a
wide range of demographic groups.

The results have now been processed and the article accepted for the
next issue of International Journal of Speech Language and the Law. I
am happy to send a pre-publication copy to anyone who needs one,
though naturally this should not be cited or circulated until it has been
officially published.

I have created a mini-version of the experiment (far shorter, and
collecting no data), and also prepared a short summary of the main
findings suitable for general consumption (especially, I hope, by

Both of these are now available at the link below.

Feel free to use the mini-experiment for demonstration purposes, or if
you did not do the expt yourself, to get a quick sense of what it was all


For those who just want a quick two-liner - the experiment found that
around 30% of those in the group that received the incriminating prime
'heard' it after it was suggested to them, though virtually no-one in
either group heard it before it was suggested. Around half of these
30% still 'heard' the suggested interpretation of the section of interest
at the end of the experiment, after being advised that experts were
agreed that interpretation was not valid.

Perhaps more surprisingly, in the group that did not receive the
incriminating prime, 14% (i.e. statistically similar number) heard the
suggested phrase at the end of the experiment even though they had
only been exposed to it for the first time in the 'full story' - i.e. in the
context of being told that all the experts had rejected the suggestion.

Further, there was a strong correlation between hearing the
incriminating phrase in the section of interest and finding the speaker
'guilty' - again, despite having been told in the 'full story' that the caller
had been found not guilty and released from prison.

Finally - there was a strong correlation between participants stating at
the very beginning of the expt, before receiving any information about
sections of interest, allegations of murder or anything, that they did not
trust the caller - and finding him guilty at the end.

Well - more than two lines, but there you have it.

Thanks again for your help with the experiment.


PS For those who are interested in the case itself, I highly recommend
Bronwen Innes' article in the current issue of IJSLL.

Linguistic Field(s): Forensic Linguistics

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