Sandhya Somashekhar and Kimbriell Kelly (WaPo via the Chicago Tribune) wonder if Michael Brown was surrendering or charging Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson when Wilson fired the final shots that felled Brown. They cite contradictions and uncertainties throughout the eyewitness testimony without finding a definitive answer to their question.
This is to be expected. While it's possible that some witnesses were dishonest, an enormous amount of research shows that we are not objective observers, recorders and recollectors of fact. Our perceptual system creates coherent pictures when we only have bits of information. Blanks are filled in and distortions can occur.
Further complicating matters, memories are constructed and then reconstructed each time we recall an event. Our initial interpretations of an event and our successive reconstructions during recall are influenced by expectations, narrative biases and things we see and hear after witnessing an event. Someone shouting "his hands were up" could, for example, lead others to recall seeing Brown's hands raised, even if they didn't actually see his hands raised.
All the while, even when our memories are inaccurate, our memories can feel compellingly accurate. A sense of confidence about a memory is not a reliable indicator of memory accuracy. This is particularly troubling because jurors tend to place greater trust in witnesses who express higher levels of confidence in the accuracy of their recollections.
I'm also reminded that some in the media have noted Officer Wilson's confidence and consistency in his telling of what happened during the confrontation with Brown. Again, confidence doesn't indicate accuracy. Wilson and others may have reasons to shade the truth or outright lie about what happened during the confrontation with Michael Brown, but it's entirely possible that everyone involved is telling the truth exactly as they recall it. That doesn't mean their recollections are correct. This is why physical evidence is so important.
One final note: I didn't post this to argue about what really happened in Ferguson, so let's not go there. This was a psychologist's post about known problems with eyewitness recollection and testimony.