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The Rashomon effect, wiki edit #5

Updated: Nov 28, 2020

Personal note: Why isn't this a more common term?



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The Rashomon effect describes when an event has multiple and contradictory eyewitness accounts.


The effect's name comes from the 1960 Japanese film Rashomon. The Rashomon plot follows four people and their different stories describing a samurai's murder that they each witnessed. Each eyewitness gives different motives, mechanism, and sequence of events leading to and of the murder.


This phenomenon is also described in Jain scriptures around 500 BC.


Modern academics define the Rashomon effect as "the naming of an epistemological framework--or ways of thinking, knowing, and remembering--required for understanding complex and ambiguous situations."


Notable academic references to the Rashomon effect in chronological order include:

  • Journalist and ethics professor Valerie Alia coined the "Rashomon Principle" in 1982. She references it in published essays and in her 2004 book Media Ethics and Social Change.

  • Anthropologist Karl G. Heider introduced the term to science with his 1988 ethnography journal article. He wrote about the subjectivity of perception on recollection when observers of an event give very different but equally believable accounts.

  • A 2015 book titled Rashomon Effects, Kurosawa, Rashomon and Their Legacies chronicles the Rashomon effect history and use in cinema, literature, legal studies, psychology, sociology, and history.

  • In 2020, The Australian Institute for Progress Ltd v The Electoral Commission of Queensland & Ors wrote: "The Rashomon effect describes how parties describe an event in a different and contradictory manner, which reflects their subjective interpretation and self-interested advocacy, rather than an objective truth. The Rashomon effect is evident when the event is the outcome of litigation. One should not be surprised when both parties claim to have won the case."

Original Text The Rashomon effect is a term related to the notorious unreliability of eyewitnesses. It describes a situation in which an event is given contradictory interpretations or descriptions by the individuals involved.


The effect is named after Akira Kurosawa's 1950 film Rashomon, in which a murder is described in four contradictory ways by four witnesses.[1] The term addresses the motives, mechanism, and occurrences of the reporting on the circumstance and addresses contested interpretations of events, the existence of disagreements regarding the evidence of events, and subjectivity versus objectivity in human perception, memory, and reporting.


The Rashomon effect has been defined in a modern academic context as "the naming of an epistemological framework—or ways of thinking, knowing, and remembering—required for understanding complex and ambiguous situations".[2]


The history of the term and its permutations in cinema, literature, legal studies, psychology, sociology, and history is the subject of a 2015 multi-author volume edited by Blair Davis, Robert Anderson and Jan Walls.[3]


Valerie Alia termed the same effect "The Rashomon Principle" and has used this variant extensively since the late 1970s, first publishing it in an essay on the politics of journalism in 1982.[citation needed] She developed the term in a 1997 essay "The Rashomon Principle: The Journalist as Ethnographer" and in her 2004 book, Media Ethics and Social Change.[4][5]


A useful demonstration of this principle in scientific understanding can be found in Karl G. Heider's 1988 journal article on ethnography.[6] Heider used the term to refer to the effect of the subjectivity of perception on recollection, by which observers of an event are able to produce substantially different but equally plausible accounts of it.


In The Australian Institute for Progress Ltd v The Electoral Commission of Queensland & Ors (No 2), Applegarth J wrote that:

The Rashomon effect describes how parties describe an event in a different and contradictory manner, which reflects their subjective interpretation and self-interested advocacy, rather than an objective truth. The Rashomon effect is evident when the event is the outcome of litigation. One should not be surprised when both parties claim to have won the case.[7]

This phenomenon is also described in Jain scriptures around 500 BC. The term used is Anekandwada and Syadwada by 24th Teerthankar Mahavir.

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