07 Apr 2014

New free psychology course explores how a suspect memory can lead to miscarriages of justice

How good is your memory?

How good is your memory?

When American student Jennifer Thompson suffered an horrific rape at knifepoint in1984, she studied her rapist throughout the incident in order to memorise his face. Days later, she selected Ronald Junior Cotton from a police line-up and then testified against him at trial, convinced that he was the perpetrator. He was convicted on her evidence and served 11 years in prison, before DNA results showed that Jennifer got it wrong.

Eyewitness accounts are a cornerstone of our justice system, and their evidence can be a significant factor in securing a conviction. However, these accounts can also lead to grave miscarriages of justice, such as that against Ronald Junior Cotton. Now a free online course from The Open University on the FutureLearn platform, Forensic Psychology, explores the fallibility of human memory, and explains why eyewitnesses can get it wrong. It gives students the chance to explore their own memories and test their own investigative abilities with an armed robbery scenario.

Professor Graham Pike, an expert in human memory and eyewitnesses, developed the Forensic Psychology course and says: “Eyewitness testimonies are often the only form of direct evidence in many crimes. They are critical to how our justice system operates, but they can also be very flawed. External influences, our own prejudices and how police conduct their investigations all impact on our powers of recall and what we believe we saw. This eight-week course gives students a chance to put themselves in the shoes of an eyewitness, and get a grasp of why human memory can be so unreliable.”

The course features the OU’s popular PhotoFit Me App, celebrity E-Fits and clips from the BBC/OU TV production Eyewitness in which an armed robbery takes place. Students follow the armed robbery case as it is investigated by a ‘good’ cop and ‘bad’ cop to see different approaches and tactics and how these impact on witness recall. Students are then asked to solve the crime based on their own evaluation of the testimony of two eyewitnesses, and compare their conclusions to what was uncovered when real-life police were brought in to solve the robbery.

Forensic Psychology is a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) starting on 9 June and running for eight weeks, with students expected to complete 3 hours a week. Registration is now open. For more information on the course and FutureLearn visit:

For those who wish to take their studies further, The Open University launches a new Psychology curriculum for 2014 with a re-designed BSc (Hons) Psychology and three new degrees – BSc (Hons) Forensic Psychology, BSc (Hons) Psychology with counselling and BSc (Hons) Social Psychology. For more information go to:

Notes to editors
About MOOCs
Massive Open Online Courses are free, high quality online courses created by leading universities, which anyone can access, anywhere in the world. They are designed for large numbers of learners.

About FutureLearn is the first UK-led multi-institutional provider of free, open, online higher education courses. It will offer courses for people to access and enjoy wherever they are in the world on multiple devices. Courses will be created by the Universities of Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, East Anglia, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Leicester, Loughborough, Kings College London, Lancaster, Leeds, Monash, Nottingham, The Open University, Queen’s Belfast, Reading, Sheffield, Southampton, Strathclyde, Trinity College Dublin and Warwick. In addition, the British Council, British Library and the British Museum have all agreed to partner with FutureLearn to share content and their expertise and collaborate in the development of courses through
For further details, please contact: / 0203 047 2588

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