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. 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".
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.
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. 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.
A useful demonstration of this principle in scientific understanding can be found in Karl G. Heider's 1988 journal article on ethnography. 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 Queensland Supreme Court case of 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.
- Davenport, Christian (2010). "Rashomon Effect, Observation, and Data Generation". Media Bias, Perspective, and State Repression: The Black Panther Party. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 52–73, esp. 55. ISBN 9780521759700.
- Anderson, Robert (2016). "The Rashomon Effect and Communication". Canadian Journal of Communication. 41 (2): 250–265. doi:10.22230/cjc.2016v41n2a3068. ISSN 0705-3657.
- Davis, Blair; Anderson, Robert; Walls, Jan, eds. (2015). Rashomon Effects: Kurosawa, Rashomon and Their Legacies. Routledge Advances in Film Studies. Abingdon, England: Routledge. ISBN 1138827096. Retrieved 28 September 2016. See also the citation of individual chapters.
- Alia, Valerie (1997). "The Rashomon Principle: The Journalist as Ethnographer". In Alia, Valerie; Brennan, Brian; Hoffmaster, Barry (eds.). Deadlines and Diversity: Journalism Ethics in a Changing World. Halifax, CAN: Fernwood. ISBN 9781895686548.
- Alia, Valerie (2004). Media Ethics and Social Change. Edinburgh, UK and New York City: Edinburgh University Press/Routledge US; Routledge US. ISBN 9780415971997.
- Heider, Karl G. (March 1988). "The Rashomon Effect: When Ethnographers Disagree" (PDF). American Anthropologist. 90 (1): 73–81. doi:10.1525/aa.1988.90.1.02a00050. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-17.
- The Australian Institute for Progress Ltd v The Electoral Commission of Queensland & Ors (No 2)  QSC 174 (15 June 2020), Supreme Court (Qld, Australia).