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Evidence of differential performance on simultaneous and sequential lineups
for individuals with autism-spectrum traits
Rachell L. Jones
, Matthew H. Scullin, Christian A. Meissner
University of Texas, El Paso, TX 79968, United States
Received 31 January 2011
Received in revised form 11 April 2011
Accepted 18 April 2011
Available online 19 May 2011
Signal detection theory
Given the impaired facial recognition of autistic individuals, we examined whether certain autism-spec-
trum traits affected eyewitness identiﬁcation performance in a general adult population. In a sample of
120 individuals, levels of autism-spectrum traits were examined in relation to performance on simulta-
neous vs. sequential lineups using a signal detection paradigm. For simultaneous lineups, total Autism
Spectrum Quotient (AQ) scores and scores on the excessive Attention to detail subscale were related to
fewer hits and a more conservative response criterion. Attention to detail interacted with lineup type
in that it was signiﬁcantly related to improved discrimination accuracy and a less conservative response
criterion in sequential lineups, but with impaired discrimination accuracy and a more conservative
response criterion in simultaneous lineups. Higher AQ scores on the Attention switching subscale
resulted in fewer hits, lower discrimination accuracy, and a more conservative response criterion with
sequential lineups. Additionally, partial disguises led to more false alarms but not decreased accuracy.
More thorough investigations of the effect of lineup type on identiﬁcations are needed before policy
changes are recommended.
Ó2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Individuals with autism have impaired facial recognition abilities
(Sasson, 2006), and researchers are beginning to examine autism-
spectrum characteristics in the general population (Baron-Cohen,
Wheelwright, Skinner, Martin, & Clubley, 2001). We examined
whether such autism-spectrum traits such as difﬁculty shifting
focus or excessive attention to detail were differentially related to
impaired performance on an eyewitness identiﬁcation task depend-
ing upon whether photos in a lineup were presented simultaneously
or sequentially. Additionally, we examined whether a partial dis-
guise makes lineup identiﬁcation performance harder, consistent
with previous ﬁndings (Meissner & Brigham, 2001).
1.1. Simultaneous vs. sequential lineups
Police agencies often use either simultaneous or sequential line-
ups for eyewitness identiﬁcations. Simultaneous lineups present all
photos to a witness at the same time, usually requiring the witness
to pick the perpetrator from amongst ﬁve foils. Sequential lineups
generally present one photo at a time to a witness who is asked
to make a yes or no decision on whether or not the perpetrator is
present before moving onto the remaining photos. Some research-
ers have suggested using sequential lineups exclusively because
simultaneous lineups lead to more false alarms (FA) in target absent
(TA) conditions (Levi & Lindsay, 2001; Lindsay & Wells, 1985).
Theoretically, sequential and simultaneous lineups have been
linked to different ways of making identiﬁcation judgments. The
increase in FA with TA simultaneous lineups may occur because
witnesses rely on relative judgments when deciding if a perpetrator
is present (Lindsay & Wells, 1985). Witnesses compare the photos
in a 6-person array and determine which one is most similar to the
image in their memory relative to the others. Researchers support-
ing the sequential advantage further suggest that sequential line-
ups prevent eyewitnesses from making relative judgments,
instead encouraging absolute judgments, in which they compare
their actual memory to each lineup member (Lindsay & Wells,
Sequential lineups should theoretically reduce FA and increase
correct rejections for TA lineups (Lindsay & Wells, 1985). However,
this ﬁnding has not always been supported, and sequential lineups
result in decreased correct identiﬁcations in target present (TP)
lineups as well (Steblay, Dysart, Fulero, & Lindsay, 2001). As an
alternative theoretical explanation, Meissner, Tredoux, Parker,
and MacLin (2005) suggest sequential lineups may encourage wit-
nesses to adopt a more conservative response criterion in which
they do not choose as much overall.
0191-8869/$ - see front matter Ó2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Corresponding author. Address: Department of Psychology, 500 West Univer-
sity Ave., University of Texas, El Paso, TX 79968, United States. Tel.: +1 915 747
8802; fax: +1 915 747 6553.
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org (R.L. Jones).
Personality and Individual Differences 51 (2011) 537–540
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
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1.2. Autism spectrum characteristics and eyewitness performance
A growing body of research suggests that autism is better
conceptualized on a continuum. The Autism Spectrum Quotient
(AQ; Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, & Skinner et al., 2001) examines
the extent to which normal functioning adults exhibit various
qualities known to be present in autistic individuals. Higher scores
on the AQ have been linked to errors in nonverbal sensitivity
(Ingersoll, 2010), enhanced performance on various visuospatial
tasks (Grinter et al., 2009), and poor social sensitivity (Baron-
Cohen, Wheelwright, Hill, Raste, & Plumb, 2001).
While the facial recognition and processing deﬁcits of autistic
children and adults is well established (Jemel, Mottron, & Dawson,
2006; Sasson, 2006), these qualities have not been assessed in nor-
mal-functioning individuals exhibiting autism-spectrum charac-
teristics (which may reﬂect general cognitive propensities in
addition to autism). Furthermore, the majority of studies examin-
ing the performance of autistic individuals have utilized classic fa-
cial recognition paradigms. The current study examined the facial
recognition abilities of a range of AQ scorers within an eyewitness
1.3. Impact of disguises on eyewitness performance
Perpetrators often disguise their appearance during the com-
mission of a crime. Researchers have found that modiﬁcations to
a target’s appearance after the initial encoding phase can signiﬁ-
cantly impair performance on later identiﬁcations (Shapiro & Pen-
rod, 1986). Shepherd, Davies, and Ellis (1978) demonstrated that
certain features were more important for accurate identiﬁcations.
In particular, a person’s hair and eyes tend to be more useful,
and disguises that alter these features can impair identiﬁcations
(Shapiro & Penrod, 1986). While most studies have revealed the
deleterious effects of disguises, others have found no impairment
(reviewed in Wells, Memon, & Penrod, 2006).
1.4. The present study
The effect of lineup type (simultaneous or sequential), disguise
(present or absent), and the level of autism-spectrum traits in nor-
mal functioning adults was examined using a signal detection the-
ory (SDT) paradigm. The SDT approach was recommended by
Ebbesen and Flowe (2002) and utilized by Meissner et al. (2005)
in order to disentangle the decision-making processes that
researchers have suggested result in the disparate outcomes for
sequential and simultaneous lineups.
Consistent with previous research, we expected no differences
in accuracy across lineup type, and a conservative response crite-
rion with sequential lineups. The presence of a disguise was ex-
pected to impair participants’ abilities to identify a perpetrator.
Lastly, because of the clear deﬁcits in facial recognition abilities
of autistic individuals, normal functioning adults with higher autis-
tic traits were expected to show decreased performance as well.
Participants consisted of 120 Hispanic psychology students
from the University of Texas at El Paso (78 females, 42 males;
age range = 17–45, mean age = 21.46, SD = 5.76 years). The major-
ity of participants were recruited from the psychology pool in
which students participate for course credit.
2.2. Assessment of eyewitness accuracy and autism characteristics
2.2.1. Simultaneous and sequential lineups
Participants viewed 8 videos of male targets (4 Hispanic, 4 Non-
Hispanic White, mean age = 21.10) either wearing sunglasses or
not while walking down a ﬂight of stairs. Participants then com-
pleted the AQ and, if necessary, number puzzle searches to provide
a consistent 5-min delay. Next, participants randomly received
either a series of 16 simultaneous or 16 sequential lineups, with
equal numbers of TP and TA lineups in random order. For each line-
up, participants were told the perpetrator may or may not be pres-
ent, asked to identify the target if present (Sequential = choose yes,
no, or unsure; Simultaneous = choose corresponding number, not
present, or unsure), and asked how conﬁdent they were in their
decisions on a scale of 0 (not at all conﬁdent) to 100% (totally con-
ﬁdent). After viewing all lineups, participants answered basic
demographic questions and were debriefed.
2.2.2. Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ)
The AQ (Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, & Skinner et al., 2001)
consists of 50 questions, including ﬁve 10-item subscales that as-
sess poor Social skills, poor Attention switching, exceptional
Attention to detail, poor Communication skills, and a poor Imag-
ination, with higher numbers indicating more autistic traits.
Cronbach’s Alpha Coefﬁcients of the subscales range from 0.63
to 0.77, and overall test–retest reliability is satisfactory (r= 0.7;
Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, & Skinner et al., 2001).
3.1. Descriptive statistics
The means and standard deviations of the AQ are presented in
Table 1. No cross race effect emerged, so all data were collapsed
across target ethnic groups. Participant identiﬁcation performance
means are found in Table 2. SDT measures of hits and FA allowed
for estimates of discrimination accuracy (A
; higher numbers re-
ﬂect a better ability to detect a perpetrator and correctly reject a
Descriptive statistics of the autism spectrum quotient.
Total Autism-Spectrum Quotient
Attention to Detail
Note: N = 120.
Range of 0 to 50.
Range of 0 to 10.
Identiﬁcation performance across lineup type and disguise.
Condition False Discrimination Response
Hits Alarms Accuracy (A
) Criterion (B}
M SD M SD M SD M SD
Simultaneous .26 .15 .07 .03 .70 .16 1.15 .31
Sequential .20 .13 .09 .05 .61 .18 1.21 .38
Yes .23 .15 .09 .04 .63 .18 1.15 .39
No .23 .13 .07 .04 .67 .17 1.21 .30
Note: N = 120.
538 R.L. Jones et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 51 (2011) 537–540
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foil), and response criterion (B}
; higher numbers indicate a conser-
vative criterion, meaning a reduced overall tendency to make
either accurate or inaccurate choices on lineups) to be calculated.
ANOVAs were conducted to examine the effect of lineup type, dis-
guise, and the AQ on identiﬁcation performance. For all calcula-
tions, overall FA rates were adjusted by dividing by the number
of photos based on the assumption that any one of the foils in
the TA lineup could be an innocent suspect.
Contrary to what was hypothesized, simultaneous lineups re-
sulted in signiﬁcantly more hits than sequential lineups, F(1,
118) = 5.43, p= .02; fewer FA, F(1, 118) = 8.40, p< .01; and better
discrimination accuracy, F(1, 118) = 7.49, p< .01. Sequential lineups
did not result in a more conservative response criterion as was ex-
pected, F(1, 118) = 1.13, p= .29. The presence of a disguise resulted
in signiﬁcantly more FA, F(1, 118) = 6.15, p= .02, but did not signif-
icantly impair discrimination accuracy, F(1, 118) = 1.78, p= .18.
3.2. The association between AQ scales and eyewitness signal detection
The correlations between AQ scales and signal detection mea-
sures are broken down by sequential and simultaneous lineups
in Table 3. For sequential lineups, higher scores on the Attention
switching subscale (meaning difﬁculty switching attention easily,
or a strong focus of attention) resulted in signiﬁcantly fewer hits,
lower discrimination accuracy, and a more conservative response
criterion. These correlations were in the same direction for simul-
taneous lineups, but not signiﬁcant.
For simultaneous lineups, total AQ scores were negatively re-
lated to hits, as well as a more conservative response criterion.
These results seemed to be largely driven by the Attention to de-
tail subscale (meaning an exceptional attention to detail). For
sequential lineups, Attention to detail was positively related to
hit rates and the correlation between Attention to detail and both
discrimination accuracy and response criterion were in the oppo-
site direction of that seen in simultaneous lineups. Table 4 shows
hierarchical regressions on the full sample, revealing a signiﬁcant
interaction between lineup type and Attention to detail for both
discrimination accuracy and response criterion. Higher scores on
the Attention to detail subscale were related to poorer discrimi-
nation accuracy and a more conservative response criterion in
simultaneous lineups compared to sequential lineups.
The most intriguing ﬁnding of this study was that individuals
with certain autistic traits (but within the normal range) per-
formed better or worse, depending on the type of lineups they
were given. Poor attention switching abilities, coupled with
sequential lineups, resulted in lower discrimination accuracy and
a more conservative response criterion. On the other hand, excep-
tional attention to detail, coupled with sequential lineups, resulted
in greater discrimination accuracy and a less conservative response
criterion. Theoretically, sequential lineups may work to the advan-
tage of people with exceptional attention to detail by requiring
them to focus on one face at a time. For simultaneous lineups,
exceptional attention to detail resulted in lower discrimination
accuracy and a more conservative response criterion. Individuals
with exceptional attention to detail seem to require a stronger
threshold before choosing someone from a simultaneous lineup.
These ﬁndings highlight the importance that estimator vari-
ables, such as individual differences in autistic traits in a normal
population, may play in eyewitness identiﬁcations. Future research
should further explore the link between scores on the AQ and its
various subscales on eyewitness performance on lineups with
varying degrees of difﬁculty. If the Attention to detail and Atten-
tion switching subscales are consistently predictive of better per-
formance on a particular lineup type, perhaps in jurisdictions
that utilize both simultaneous and sequential lineups a brief
screening measure could be developed for police to help determine
which lineup type would be more beneﬁcial for a given witness.
Contrary to some previous studies, simultaneous lineups re-
sulted in signiﬁcantly better discrimination accuracy over sequen-
tial lineups. In addition, while there was a trend toward a
conservative criterion shift in sequential lineups, it was not
signiﬁcant. Participants found the lineup task to be challenging
(low overall hits) so being able to compare the photos in the
Pearson correlation matrix of autism spectrum quotient scores with signal detection measures for simultaneous lineups (above the diagonal) and sequential lineups (below the
1. Total autism spectrum quotient (AQ) score – .74
.10 .16 .31
2. AQ social skill .64
.13 .05 .05 .07
3. AQ attention switching .57
.19 – .12 .22 .10 .22 .11 .11 .23
4. AQ attention to detail .26
.20 .09 – .11 .43
.19 .16 .35
5. AQ communication skill .69
.24 .08 – .13 .12 .08 .08 .15
6. AQ imagination .28
.13 .08 .32
.11 – .03 .09 .03 .02
7. Overall hits .08 .05 .41
.05 .06 – .08 .82
8. Overall false alarms .03 .04 .05 .03 .20 .06 .07 – .47
9. Overall discrimination accuracy (A
).03 .05 .36
.20 .08 .08 .78
10. Overall response criterion (B}
) .04 .02 .41
.22 .07 .05 .83
Note: N = 60 for each group.
Summary of hierarchical regression analyses predicting discrimination accuracy and
response criterion for eyewitness lineup identiﬁcation performance.
Step 1 .06
Simultaneous lineup = 1 .24
Step 2 .01 .00
Simultaneous lineup = 1 .24
AQ attention to detail .03 .05
Step 3 .03
Simultaneous lineup = 1 .77
AQ attention to detail .23 .25
Simultaneous attention to detail .62
Note: N = 120.
R.L. Jones et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 51 (2011) 537–540 539
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this out, future studies should manipulate lineup difﬁculty. The
presence of a disguise did not affect overall accuracy but did in-
crease FA, suggesting witnesses are more likely to choose a foil
when the perpetrator wore a disguise, even when warned the per-
petrator may or may not be present.
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