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Media centre home > News > Virtual murder scene throws doubt on eyewitness accounts

Issued:23/09/10

A 3D virtual murder scene has been developed to help forensic psychologists understand the reasons for false or mistaken eyewitness accounts when a crime is committed.

The virtual 'fly through' of a murder scene has been produced by final year games and animation students at Sheffield Hallam University, who worked to a brief set by forensic psychology academics at the University.

Dr Iain Garner, senior academic in forensic psychology, said: "Mistaken eyewitness accounts are the biggest cause of miscarriages of justice.

"Memory is a constructed phenomenon and it's very unreliable under duress. The virtual murder scene is being used to examine how people scan a room, especially a room where a murder has been committed.

"Rather than focus on blood spatters and dead bodies, the virtual murder scene is designed to make forensics students focus on other key elements. Is there evidence of a break-in? Is there drug paraphernalia in the room? Has a struggle taken place?"

Games and animation students have also developed a car crash simulator, which is used to test witnesses' memories of crashes.

According to Dr Garner, witnesses often allow stereotypes and preconceptions to influence their recollection of a car accident.

He said: "When there's a lack of information on a scene there's an inclination to blame the drivers of sportier cars.

"With the simulation, we can change many variables, including type of car, whether there was music on in one of the cars, witness location and whether their line of sight was impeded in any way.

"We find that when eye-witnesses are asked to put together a driver profile, the blame often lies with sports car drivers, because there's an assumption that they take more risks."

Games and visualisation course leader Bob Steele said: "Our games and visualisations students love applying their skills to interesting applications such as this.

"Working with staff and students across faculty boundaries creates great working experiences for our students, and we'd like to encourage anyone interested in using our student skills in this way to get in touch."

For press information contact: Joe Field on 0114 225 2074 or email pressoffice@shu.ac.uk