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A Process Perspective: The Importance of Theory in Eyewitness Identification Research



Eyewitness memory represents an inherently applied research problem, wherein scholars have increased public awareness of the problem of mistaken eyewitness identification and successfully developed policies and procedures that will increase the diagnostic value of an identification. At the same time, a tension has long existed between those that have urged the field to adopt this applied research focus and those that have advocated for a more theoretically informed research focus. In the current chapter, we offer a process perspective that engages psychological theories of memory, face recognition, social influence and decision processes that have been shown to influence eyewitness identifications. We propose that the eyewitness context affords scholars a 'middle road' to engage in the development and refinement of such theoretical frameworks. Greater attention to such a process perspective, rooted in the rich theoretical backdrops of cognitive and social psychology, is more likely to enhance our understanding of eyewitness decisions and lead to novel insights that leverage core processes.
A Process Perspective: The Importance of Theory in Eyewitness Identification Research
Rachel E. Dianiska, Krista D. Manley, & Christian A. Meissner
Iowa State University
Eyewitness memory represents an inherently applied research problem, wherein scholars have
increased public awareness of the problem of mistaken eyewitness identification and
successfully developed policies and procedures that will increase the diagnostic value of an
identification. At the same time, a tension has long existed between those that have urged the
field to adopt this applied research focus and those that have advocated for a more theoretically
informed research focus. In the current chapter, we offer a process perspective that engages
psychological theories of memory, face recognition, social influence and decision processes that
have been shown to influence eyewitness identifications. We propose that the eyewitness context
affords scholars a ‘middle road’ to engage in the development and refinement of such theoretical
frameworks. Greater attention to such a process perspective, rooted in the rich theoretical
backdrops of cognitive and social psychology, is more likely to enhance our understanding of
eyewitness decisions and lead to novel insights that leverage core processes.
Eyewitness memory represents an inherently applied research problem. Herein, scholars
have sought to identify the variety of factors or conditions that might lead a person to correctly
or incorrectly identify a suspect from a lineup. The resulting phenomena that have been
discovered by scholars (e.g., the weapon focus effect, the cross-race effect, the impact of biased
instructions, or post-identification feedback) have been variously categorized as having a system
vs. estimator basis (Wells, 1978). Such effects have also served as the basis for developing best
practice guidelines (Wells et al., 2020), and have been described by experts in cases involving
disputed identification evidence (Kassin, Tubb, Hosch, & Memon, 2001; Malpass, Ross,
Meissner, & Marcon, 2009). Further, contemporary debates within the field have often focused
on how best to measure the diagnostic value of an identification decision (e.g., Clark, 2012;
Wixted & Mickes, 2012) and to determine the practical value of a given identification procedure
(e.g., simultaneous vs. sequential; show-up vs. lineup). As this volume will likely make clear,
this applied research focus has increased public awareness of the problem of mistaken
eyewitness identification and has led to successful reforms of policy and practice.
At the same time, a tension has long existed between those that have urged the field to
adopt this applied research focus and those that have advocated for a theoretically-informed
research focus that assesses the psychological mechanisms and processes that underlie various
eyewitness identification phenomena (see Brewer, Weber, & Semmler, 2007; Lane & Meissner,
2008; Turtle, Read, Lindsay, & Brimacombe, 2008). This latter, more basic research approach is
typically driven by a desire to identify the fundamental psychological processes that drive
eyewitness decisions and to link relevant phenomena to general principles of memory, decision
making, or social influence.
The historical roots of this tension between basic vs. applied foci on eyewitness
identification date back to seminal works by Arnold (1906) and Munsterberg (1908). As
described by Bornstein and Penrod (2008), the approaches taken by these early scholars were, in
fact, “exemplars of the ‘basic’ and ‘applied’ extremes, respectively” (p. 766). Hoffman and
Deffenbacher (1992) offer a compelling history of the origins of applied psychological research
and the interplay between basic and applied research foci, and subsequently offer a framework
for considering the “interdependence of science and application” (Hoffman & Deffenbacher,
1993, p. 323) in which both methodological and theoretical considerations highlight the basic vs.
applied value of a research program. Here, Hoffman and Deffenbacher note that studies often
balance facets of ecological and epistemological validity though, at their extremes, such
dimensions give rise to purely basic vs. applied research. They conclude, however, that “whereas
any psychological theory or hypothesis that is intended to be complete must possess some
minimum degree of ecological validity, research methods must necessarily possess some
minimum degree of epistemological validity” (p. 337). It is this “middle road” in which basic
theory is used to inform an understanding of eyewitness identification decisions that we and
others have advocated (Lane & Meissner, 2008).
In the current chapter, we offer a process perspective on eyewitness identification in
which we explore a variety of cognitive and social psychological theories that might account for
eyewitness identification decisions. Prior reviews have often framed a discussion of eyewitness
phenomena in the context of a traditional information processing model (Atkinson & Shiffrin,
1968). Here, factors that influence identification outcomes may occur at the time of initial
encoding or perception of the target stimulus, during the period in which that information is
stored, and/or at the time of retrieval during an identification task (e.g., Brigham, Wasserman, &
Meissner, 1999). In contrast to these reviews, the current review is focused on five psychological
processes that have been explored by eyewitness identification scholars, including the role of: (a)
attentional processes that influence the selective encoding of information; (b) memory processes
that affect the representation and retrieval of information; (c) metacognitive processes that
influence memory reporting and related attributions regarding memory accuracy; (d) face-
specific processing that has implications for recognition and identification of familiar and
unfamiliar individuals; and (e) social influence and decision processes related to the influence
of others on eyewitness decisions and relevant decisional biases that occur in the eyewitness
context. In each section, we offer a selective description of relevant psychological models and
theories, and discuss their application to eyewitness identification decisions and other related
eyewitness memory phenomena.
Theories of Attention
Attention is crucial to consider in an eyewitness context, particularly given that it serves
as the interface between the outside world and our cognitive system, and determines what
information is subject to further encoding and semantic analysis. For instance, it is not
uncommon for witnesses to be distracted or simply fail to attend to the commission of a crime,
while some aspects of the person or situation may also be more likely to draw a person’s
attention – such as the presence of a weapon.
Because short-term memory is limited with respect to the amount of information that can
be held, attention is necessary to efficiently process some, but not all, information from the
environment. Classic models of attention have been characterized by bottlenecks that constrain
what information we can perceive and process. There has been much theoretical debate regarding
the timing of semantic analysis, be it prior to or following the selection of information by the
attentional system (see Broadbent, 1958; Deutsch & Deutsch, 1963). More recent work has
focused on the potential costs of distributing attention across multiple tasks (e.g., Pashler, 1994).
Such findings highlight the limited-capacity nature of our attentional system that require it to be
selective in what information is selected for further processing.
The notion of attention as a limited resource is important to understanding failures of
attention. Dual-task interference has been shown to be more likely when performing different
tasks that require the same pool of resources (e.g., visual, auditory, etc.), because attention is
necessarily divided to engage in both tasks. When attention is divided at encoding, later
recognition accuracy decreases for both words (Parkin, Reid, & Russo, 1990) and faces (Reinitz,
Morrisey, & Demb, 1994), and increases the likelihood of misattributing familiarity at
recognition (Jacoby, Woloshyn, & Kelley, 1989). In an eyewitness context, when attention is
drawn to a weapon rather than to other details in a scene, identification accuracy tends to be
negatively affected (for a meta-analytic review of this “weapon focus effect”, see Fawcett,
Russell, Peace, & Christie, 2013). Additionally, when a secondary task is performed
concurrently with exposure to misleading post-event information, witnesses whose attention is
divided may become more susceptible to misinformation (Lane, 2006; Zaragoza & Lane, 1998).
Although divided attention has been associated with decreased identification performance, there
is preliminary evidence that it may not affect a witness’s calibration (i.e., the relationship
between one’s subjective confidence in their accuracy and objective accuracy; see Palmer,
Brewer, Weber, & Nagesh, 2012).
Other failures of attention include inattentional blindness and change blindness.
Inattentional blindness is defined as a failure to notice the presence of an unexpected item (Rock,
Linnett, Grant, & Mack, 1992). When attention is diverted elsewhere, people can fail to notice
something as salient as a gorilla walking through a group of basketball players (Simons &
Chabris, 1999), and may similarly fail to notice a crime being committed (e.g., Chabris,
Weinberger, Fontain, & Simons, 2011; Hyman, 2016; Rivardo, Brown, Rodgers, Maurer,
Camaione, Minjock, & Gowen, 2011). In contrast, change blindness is a failure to detect changes
in natural scenes (Simons & Levin, 1997). Such failures to notice a changing stimulus have been
demonstrated with still images and motion pictures (Levin & Simons, 1997), as well as the
inability to detect the change of a person in a face-to-face interaction (Simons & Levin, 1998).
Change blindness has been proposed as one reason that bystanders are misidentified as culprits, a
phenomenon sometimes referred to as unconscious transference (Ross, Ceci, Dunning, & Toglia,
1994). Eyewitnesses who correctly detect a distinction between the culprit and an innocent
bystander during encoding are more accurate on a subsequent lineup identification task,
compared to witnesses who fail to detect this distinction (Fitzgerald, Oriet, & Price, 2016). While
inattentional blindness highlights the limited capacity of the attentional buffer, change blindness
likely results from our failure to successfully encode and directly compare the two stimuli
(persons, objects, etc.). These and other issues relevant to the allocation of attention in the
eyewitness context have been nicely summarized by Pickel (2015).
The detrimental effect of alcohol intoxication on a witness’s accuracy has also been
discussed as an attentional effect. For instance, alcohol myopia theory posits that alcohol leads
an individual to allocate their attention to the most central or salient cues in the environment at
the expense of other peripheral details (Steele & Josephs, 1990). While intoxication does not
appear to negatively affect eyewitness identification (for review, see Flowe, Colloff, Kloft, Jores,
& Stevens, 2019), studies do show such a memory impairment for the recall of peripheral details
(e.g., Schreiber-Compo et al., 2011) – though this impairment is not always observed (e.g., Van
Oorsouw & Merckelbach, 2012). In general, alcohol intoxication appears to influence the
completeness, but not the accuracy, of a witness’s statement, given that the decrement is isolated
to correct details (for meta-analysis, see Jores, Colloff, Kloft, Smailes, & Flowe, 2019).
Theories of Memory & Forgetting
After witnessing a crime, the task of an eyewitness rests on their memory for the
perpetrator and the event itself. The contents and quality of a witness’s memory will largely be a
function of not only what information is attended to (as discussed previously), but also factors
related to the processing and storage of that information. Modern conceptions of memory often
begin with Atkinson and Shiffrin’s (1968) information processing model, which describes how
information flows through sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory stores.
In lieu of a single long-term memory store, a typology has been offered to distinguish the
conscious recollection of events (explicit vs. implicit memory; see Schacter, 1987). Further, this
typology considers whether information is related to general knowledge and factual information
(semantic), personal experiences or events (episodic), or the procedures involved in performing
actions (procedural; see Tulving, 1985). Eyewitness identification tasks most often deal with
episodic memory, given that the occurrence of a crime is associated with time and place in our
memory. As a result, factors that influence episodic long-term memory are likely to play a role in
eyewitness identification accuracy. Here we focus on a subset of more general cognitive theories
and processes that are relevant to eyewitness identification.
Working Memory & Executive Function
The concept of working memory has largely replaced the notion of short-term memory,
comprised of components that store and manipulate verbal, visual, spatial, and episodic
information (Baddeley, 2012; Baddeley & Hitch, 1974). The capacity of working memory is
thought to be related to a person’s ability to maintain or inhibit information (for a review, see
Engle, 2018). Individual differences in working memory capacity predict performance on a
number of real-world cognitive tasks, including reading comprehension and vocabulary learning.
Though individual differences in eyewitness identification accuracy have only occasionally been
explored, there is preliminary evidence that witnesses with greater working memory capacity are
more accurate on identification tasks (Andersen, Carlson, Carlson, & Gronlund, 2014) and less
susceptible to misinformation (Jaschinski & Wentura, 2002).
Integral to working memory is the central executive. Related to the attentional system,
the central executive is associated with processes necessary for the organization and coordination
of fundamental cognitive processes involved in performing complex tasks. One
conceptualization of executive function, proposed by Miyake and colleagues (2000), involves
three primary executive processes: an inhibition function that overrides a dominant response; a
shifting function that allows one to alternate between tasks or mental sets; and an updating
function that serves to monitor and engage in addition or deletion of contents within working
memory. These three processes reflect a person’s ability to maintain task goals and goal-related
information. The role of executive function in eyewitness memory has been assessed in the
context of children’s suggestibility to misinformation (for a review, see Bruck & Melnyk, 2004),
as well as the recall and identification performance of individuals on the Autism Spectrum
(Jones, Scullin, & Meissner, 2011; Maras, Memon, Lambrechts, & Bowler, 2013).
Levels of Processing
The extent to which information is qualitatively processed by the cognitive system can
influence how well information is subsequently remembered (Craik & Lockhart, 1972).
According to this levels of processing framework, information processing can range from
shallow (e.g., identifying a specific letter of a word) to deep (e.g., identifying the meaning of a
word). Deeper processing produces stronger and more elaborated memory traces, leading to
enhanced recollection. Though originally demonstrated with verbal materials, depth of
processing effects have also been shown in memory for faces (e.g., Bower & Karlin, 1974), with
deep encoding instructions producing a robust increase in face identification performance
(Shapiro & Penrod, 1986). Further, increased identification accuracy for perpetrators of serious
crimes has been proposed to be result from motivational processes that encourage witnesses to
attend to and process more facial features (Leippe, Wells, & Ostrom, 1978).
Transfer-Appropriate Processing
The transfer-appropriate processing framework posits that retrieval of information from
memory is most likely to be successful when the processes activated at retrieval match those at
encoding (Morris, Bransford, & Franks, 1977). Transfer-appropriate processing has been applied
in the eyewitness context by exploring the benefits of reinstating the original encoding context of
the event. Reestablishing the mental processes, or the initial perceptual or emotional context at
retrieval can increase identification accuracy (for meta-analyses, see Shapiro & Penrod, 1986;
Smith & Vela, 2001). For instance, witnesses who view perpetrators disguised with ski masks
are more accurate when lineup members also wear ski masks (Manley, Chan, & Wells, 2018),
and own-race (but not other-race) lineup identification appears to benefit from reinstatement of
context (Evans, Marcon, & Meissner, 2009). When used as part of the Cognitive Interview
(Fisher & Geiselman, 1992), context reinstatement also contributes to an increase in the number
of correct details that an eyewitness recalls (for a meta-analysis, see Memon, Meissner, & Fraser,
Transfer-inappropriate processing has been invoked to explain the verbal overshadowing
effect in eyewitness memory – the phenomenon in which asking a witness to provide a verbal
description of a previously seen face can hinder subsequent identification (Schooler & Engstler-
Schooler, 1990). This effect may be due to the different processing requirements involved in
verbal recall and perceptual identification tasks (Schooler, 2002). The negative effects of
verbalization on identification accuracy, however, can be mitigated by introducing a delay
between the time of the description and the time that the identification is made (Meissner &
Brigham, 2001a; Alogna et al., 2014). It has been suggested that this delay may facilitate a
release from retroactive interference (discussed further below) caused by the description task
(Finger & Pezdek, 1999).
It is well known that the distinctiveness of a stimulus is related to the likelihood of
subsequent recognition (Hunt, 2006). As a more general principle, the processing of information
specific or unique to a stimulus at encoding can improve subsequent memory performance (e.g.,
Moscovitch & Craik, 1976). Further, Einstein and Hunt (1980) have shown that the simultaneous
processing of both the similarities and differences among stimuli occurs as a function of
organizational (relational) and distinctive (item-specific) processing, respectively. The
combination of these processes can facilitate memory retrieval when reinstated at test (Matthews,
Smith, Hunt, & Pivetta, 1999). Further, people often believe that they should remember
distinctive information (a distinctiveness heuristic), and subsequent retrieval failure of a
distinctive stimulus can be used as evidence that the stimulus had not been seen before (Dodson
& Schacter, 2002).
With respect to lineup identification, the potential advantage of sequential lineups over
simultaneous lineups has been proposed to be partially due to the encoding and recollection of
distinctive information that is afforded by a sequential lineup – particularly for target-absent
arrays (Carlson & Gronlund, 2011; Gronlund, 2005; however, see Meissner, Tredoux, Parker, &
MacLin, 2005). In contrast, Wixted and Mickes (2014) proposed the diagnostic feature-detection
hypothesis as an explanation for the discrimination advantage of simultaneous (vs. sequential)
arrays. According to this hypothesis, a witness’s memory of a perpetrator is associated with the
encoding and representation of distinctive features. At the time of identification, the
simultaneous presentation of all lineup members is said to afford the opportunity to compare
faces and distinguish distinctive features associated with the perpetrator. When a perpetrator’s
description includes a distinctive feature, additional research suggests that superimposing this
feature across all lineup members, as opposed to concealing the feature for all members, can
facilitate correct identification (Carlson, 2011; Zarkadi, Wade, & Stewart, 2009).
Single- vs. Dual-Process Theories
An important distinction in theories of human memory is whether recognition relies on a
single type of evidence (single-process models) or on two distinct processes that support retrieval
(dual-process models). Single-process models of recognition memory assume that people make
memory decisions on the basis of a single dimension - for instance, models of recognition often
propose that people rely upon subjective familiarity to determine a response (e.g., Clark &
Gronlund, 1996; Gillund & Shiffrin, 1984). Signal detection theory, in particular, characterizes a
recognition decision as a function of a single dimension of memory evidence (memory strength),
upon which a person establishes a criterion for saying that a stimulus has been encountered
previously (see Wixted, 2007). Using a single-process model framework, Clark (2003) proposed
WITNESS: a model in which recognition decisions are based upon various decision rules for
comparing the familiarity between lineup members and the contents of memory.
In contrast, dual-process theories suggest that a recognition judgment is a function of two
processes (Mandler, 1980; Jacoby & Dallas, 1981; Yonelinas, 1994): i) the recollection of details
about the prior encounter, and ii) a sense of familiarity that the stimulus has been encountered
previously (for a review, see Diana, Reder, Arndt, & Park, 2006). For example, Brainerd and
Reyna’s (2002) fuzzy trace theory proposes the existence of distinct traces for literal, precise
memory representations (verbatim traces) and vaguer, meaning-based content (gist traces).
Whereas gist tends to be associated with familiarity, both gist and verbatim traces can contribute
to recollection. Though some researchers posit that recollection and familiarity represent two
independent underlying processes (e.g., recovery of encoding context versus processing fluency,
Jacoby, 1996), others have suggested that the two processes combined might represent the
memory strength dimension in signal detection models (Wixted & Stretch, 2004; Wixted, 2007).
The remember-know procedure (Tulving, 1985; Gardiner, 1988) is often used to assess
the contributions of recollection and familiarity to a recognition decision. When an item is
recognized as having been encountered previously, participants assert whether the item was
accompanied by the recall of contextual information (“remember” judgment) or whether the
basis for recognition was more akin to a feeling of familiarity (“know” judgment). Remember-
know judgments have been used to examine the effects of recollection and familiarity in
sequential and simultaneous lineups (Meissner, Tredoux, Parker, & MacLin, 2005), carry-over
effects between show-ups and line-ups (Haw, Dickinson, & Meissner, 2007), and recognition of
own-race and other-race faces (Meissner, Brigham, & Butz, 2005). Further, remember
judgments, in particular, have been shown to be diagnostic of correct identifications in an
eyewitness identification paradigm (Palmer, Brewer, McKinnon, & Weber, 2010).
Memory Consolidation
Consolidation is the process by which a memory becomes more stable and resistant to
interference via the strengthening of neural circuits, typically during a time of inactivity or sleep
(McGaugh, 2000; Walker, 2005). Sleep deprivation has implications for memory consolidation
(e.g., Graves, Heller, Pack, & Abel, 2003), and may also disrupt the encoding of new
information by impairing the function of the hippocampus (see Walker, 2008). Additionally,
cannabis intoxication, in particular, is thought to lead to impairments in the storage phase of
memory (for a review, see Ranganathan & D’souza, 2006). Cannabis appears to have similar
effects as alcohol with respect to less complete, but not less accurate, memory for events (e.g.,
Vredeveldt, Charman, den Blanken, & Hooydonk, 2018), though it can negatively influence
identification accuracy (Pezdek, Abed, & Reisberg, 2020).
Recent research assessing the relationship between sleep and eyewitness memory has
shown that sleep following encoding may decrease the likelihood of false identifications, but
does not increase correct identifications (Stepan, Dehnke, & Finn, 2017). However, the effects of
sleep on eyewitness identification are not always observed (Morgan, Tamminen, Seale-Carlisle,
& Mickes, 2019). Retrieval of a memory that has been subject to consolidation can place the
memory in a destabilized state, at which point it is susceptible to new information (Hardt,
Einarsson, & Nader, 2010). Eyewitnesses who are exposed to new information soon after
reactivation of a memory tend to be more susceptible to misinformation, but not if that exposure
occurs outside of the reconsolidation window (Chan & LaPaglia, 2013).
Forgetting tends to occur as a power function over time, with the greatest decline
immediately after encoding and a gradually slowing rate of forgetting as time progresses (Wixted
& Ebbesen, 1991). This notion of forgetting over time is important in the context of eyewitness
identification due to the likelihood of significant delays between the occurrence of a crime and
the administration of a lineup. Numerous studies have shown that eyewitness accuracy decreases
with longer retention intervals (e.g., Deffenbacher, Bornstein, McGorty, & Penrod, 2008),
although recent evidence suggests that such long delays may not have the same effect on the
relationship between confidence and accuracy (Wixted, Read, & Lindsay, 2016).
Aside from lessened accessibility due to the passage of time, information can also be
rendered inaccessible due to such processes as interference (Underwood & Postman, 1960). For
example, response competition can arise when the same stimulus is associated with both the
correct and incorrect response(s), which can impair retrieval from long-term memory. Retrieval-
induced forgetting refers to the phenomenon wherein the act of recalling some information, such
as “apple” as an exemplar from the category “fruit,” can inhibit the recall of related information,
such as “banana” (e.g., Anderson, Bjork, & Bjork, 1994). This phenomenon has been extended
to recently learned episodic information (Ciranni & Shimamura, 1999), as well as the eyewitness
context in particular (e.g., MacLeod, 2002; Shaw, Bjork, & Handal, 1995). Similar to the verbal
overshadowing effect, the effects of interference caused by retrieval can be attenuated by
introducing a delay prior to a final test of memory (MacLeod & Macrae, 2001). While retrieval-
induced forgetting has been explored with respect to features of an eyewitness event and details
associated with a perpetrator (age, facial hair, etc.), little research has been conducted with
respect to eyewitness identification. However, a study by Rugo, Tamler, Woodman, and Maxcey
(2017) suggests that faces are just as susceptible to retrieval-induced forgetting as other non-
visual stimuli. When used in conjunction with category cues, however, facial stimuli show no
retrieval-induced forgetting effect – a finding that has implications for the cue-dependent, rather
than inhibitory, nature of the phenomenon (Perfect et al., 2004). An excellent summary of the
applied implications of retrieval-induced forgetting has been offered by Storm and colleagues
(Storm, Angello, Buchli, Koppel, Little, & Nestojko, 2015).
Forgetting is not always passive. Individuals who are instructed to forget information
often demonstrate impaired memory performance on later recall or recognition tasks – a
phenomenon known as directed forgetting (Bjork, LaBerge, & Legrand, 1968). People may be
instructed to forget individual items after each item is presented (item-method) or after a
sequence of items has been presented (list-method). The proposed mechanisms underlying
directed forgetting have included the differential encoding of “remember” and “forget” items
(e.g., Basden, Basden, & Gargano, 1993; but see Fawcett & Taylor, 2008), and a change in
mental context afforded by the “forget” instruction (Sahakyan & Kelley, 2002). Beyond basic
stimuli including word pairs and sentences, directed forgetting effects have been explored with
performed actions (e.g., Sahakyan & Foster, 2009), experienced autobiographical events (Joslyn
& Oakes, 2005), and the recognition of faces (e.g., Fitzgerald, Price, & Oriet, 2013; Goernart,
Corenblum, & Otani, 2011).
Theories of Metacognition
Witnesses who make an identification from a lineup often provide an expression of
certainty in their decision. Such statements that reflect what the witness thinks about their own
memory provide the investigator (and in some cases, triers of fact) with important information
about the likelihood of that witness being accurate. Metacognition refers to knowledge of and
regulatory processes associated with cognition (see Flavell, 1979), while metamemory, in
particular, refers to what people know and believe about their own memory (see Dunlosky &
Thiede, 2013; Nelson & Narons, 1990). Two metacognitive processes – monitoring and control –
operate in tandem to regulate the accuracy of a person’s memory reports by deciding what
information to volunteer and what information to withhold. Monitoring refers to the process by
which a person assesses the correctness of a potential memory response, whereas a control
process determines whether a person will volunteer a response (see Koriat & Goldsmith, 1996).
Control processes may be captured by such measures as the selection of encoding or search
strategies and the allocation of study time. In contrast, memory monitoring may be reflected in
such measures of ease-of-learning judgments, feeling-of-knowing judgments, judgments of
learning, and subjective confidence ratings.
When freely reporting information from memory, individuals often regulate their
responses in order to satisfy a tradeoff between how much information to provide and the
likelihood that the information is correct (quantity-accuracy tradeoff; Koriat & Goldsmith,
1996). Most people show good monitoring resolution (i.e., they are able to distinguish the
retrieval of accurate and inaccurate items or details), though they often demonstrate
overconfidence in their memory. Further, a lack of control sensitivity has been demonstrated in
certain populations, including older adults and those with deficits in executive functioning (e.g.,
Rhodes & Kelley, 2005; for review, see Isingrini, Perrotin, & Souchay, 2008). In an eyewitness
context, an understanding of how people monitor and control their memory has implications for
whether a witness makes an identification from a lineup or not and the confidence with which
any identification decision is made, as well as the content provided in a witness’s statement. In
the following sections, we discuss how individuals make attributions about their own memories
and briefly describe research on the relationship between prospective / retrospective confidence
estimates and identification accuracy.
Reality Monitoring and Source Monitoring
In the context of an eyewitness event, the ability to remember where information was
encountered is critical. Two processes associated with such judgments include reality monitoring
(Johnson & Raye, 1981) and by extension source monitoring (Johnson, Hashtroudi, & Lindsay,
1992). Reality monitoring refers to the process by which individuals determine whether their
memories are derived from real or imagined events. This determination is made from a
comparison of features that may be indicative of how the event was encoded, including
subjective aspects involving vividness and clarity, sensory information, contextual information,
thoughts and feelings, and the intensity of one’s feelings at the time. Memories for events that
were experienced are more likely to be associated with sensory information and contextual
information than events that were only imagined.
More generally, source monitoring refers to the process by which individuals determine
the specific origin (or source) of their memories (e.g., did I read this in a newspaper or hear this
story from a friend?). Source monitoring is an imperfect process – misattributions (i.e., errors
when people make judgments about the origin of their memories) can occur when two sources
are similar (e.g., Lindsay, Allen, Chan, & Dahl, 2004; for a review, see Lindsay, 2008). Such
errors have been shown to increase a witness’s susceptibility to misinformation, particularly
when attention was divided at encoding (Lane, 2006). Such errors may also be more pronounced
for older adults, due to decreased monitoring abilities (e.g., Cohen & Faulkner, 1989). With
respect to eyewitness identification tasks, failures of source monitoring have also been used to
explain the misidentification of bystanders, a phenomenon often referred to as unconscious
transference (Ross et al., 1994).
What a witness believes about the quality of their memory will likely influence whether
they choose someone from a lineup. Generally, there are two classes of metamemory judgments:
judgments made about future memory performance (prospective judgments), and judgments
made about past memory performance (retrospective judgments; Dunlosky & Thiede, 2013).
Prospective judgments are made prior to a memory test, whereas retrospective judgments are
made after a memory test has been completed.
The literature on eyewitness identification is replete with studies examining retrospective
confidence from an identification task (e.g., Juslin, Olsson, & Winman, 1996; for a review, see
Wixted & Wells, 2017). For decades, a prevailing assumption was that the relationship between
a witness’s accuracy in identifying a suspect from a lineup and a witness’s confidence in their
choice is weak, though the relationship among those who choose from a lineup has been shown
to be small, yet reliable (see Sporer, Penrod, Read, & Cutler, 1995). Recently, Wells and Wixted
(2017) have argued that under “pristine” conditions, the relationship between confidence and
accuracy is actually much stronger than previously thought. For “pristine” conditions to be met, a
confidence rating must involve: i) a witness’s initial and immediate rating, ii) uncontaminated by
outside influences (such as post-identification feedback, which can artificially inflate a witness’s
subsequent statement of confidence; Wells & Bradfield, 1998), iii) given on a fair lineup, and iv)
administered in a double-blind manner to mitigate conscious or subconscious bias. When a
confidence rating is provided in such contexts, the ratings better reflect a witness’s ability to
monitor retrieval from memory during the identification task and are thus more diagnostic.
The eyewitness identification literature on assessments of future memory performance, in
contrast, is relatively sparse. Some studies have used pre-lineup confidence (or prospective
confidence) ratings to understand how witnesses monitored their learning prior to an
identification task. Cutler and Penrod (1989) found that such pre-lineup confidence judgments
were weakly associated with identification accuracy. Recent studies of face recognition suggest a
similar pattern (e.g.,Olsson & Juslin, 1999; Sommer, Leuthold, & Schweinberger, 1995). Other
researchers, however, have found evidence that people can predict face recognition performance,
but that this may be limited to the recognition of own-race faces (Hourihan, Benjamin, & Liu,
2012). Prospective judgments in the basic cognitive arena have also been assessed in terms of
whether they are provided immediately after learning, or delayed for some period of time after
learning, prior to completing a memory test (for a meta-analysis, see Rhodes & Tauber, 2011).
People tend to be more accurate at predicting future memory performance if they provide
prospective confidence ratings following a delay, likely because the success (or failure) of a
retrieval attempt informs the judgment of learning rating (Metcalfe & Finn, 2008).
Theories of Face Processing
Given the nature of an eyewitness’s task – namely, identifying the culprit primarily by
recognition or identification of his or her face amongst a set of alternative (filler) faces – the
cognitive processes associated with face recognition are important to consider. Theoretical
accounts of face processing often include distinct components that provide information about the
structure of the face, identity and contextual information (such as occupation or location of the
interaction), and the person’s name, among others (see Bruce & Young, 1986). Theoretical
(Valentine, Lewis, & Hills, 2016) and computational (O’Toole, Castillo, Parde, Hill, &
Chellappa, 2018; Turk & Pentland, 1991) models of face recognition have been developed to
account for psychological and neural aspects face recognition performance (e.g., O’Toole, 2005;
for a review, see Bruce & Lander, this volume; Bruce & Young, 2012). Such models, however,
are rarely used to explain eyewitness phenomena, with the notable exception of the cross-race
effect (Meissner & Brigham, 2001b). Several theories of face recognition, described below, are
quite relevant to eyewitness identification.
Holistic, Configural, and Featural Processing
Converging evidence suggests that people engage in the holistic processing of faces (i.e.,
as a whole entity) to a greater extent than featural processing (i.e. one at a time or as distinct
components; Tanaka & Farah, 1993; for a review, see Tanaka & Simonyi, 2016). A variety of
behavioral findings have offered support for the holistic face perception account. For example,
face recognition is more difficult when faces are inverted, compared to when they are in a
canonical, upright orientation (Yin, 1969). Additionally, when two halves of different faces are
aligned to form a composite, people are unable to ignore the whole face and are slower and less
accurate at recognizing either half (the composite effect; Young, Hellawell, & Hay, 2013). An
inability to ignore a holistic representation of a face has also been invoked to explain why change
detection (but not localizing where that change occurred) is greater for face stimuli than object
stimuli (Wilford & Wells, 2010). Finally, recognition of individual facial features is improved if
those features were studied and later recognized from within a whole face (the part-whole effect;
Tanaka & Farrah, 1993; Tanaka & Sengco, 1997), though recognition of facial features is
impaired if those features are studied in isolation and recognized within a whole face (whole-face
interference; Leder & Carbon, 2005).
A third type of processing, configural processing, has also been discussed at length in the
face recognition literature. As distinct from holistic process, configural processing is generally
understood to be the processing of differences in the spatial relations between facial features that
make each face unique (also referred to as second-order relations, Diamond & Carey, 1986).
Burton and colleagues have argued against the idea that configural processing is essential for
familiar face recognition (see Burton, 2013; Burton, Schweinberger, Jenkins, & Kaufmann,
2015). While holistic, configural, and featural processing have been shown to be distinct
behaviorally, all three remain important to successful face recognition (e.g., Amishav & Kimchi,
2010; Cabeza & Kato, 2000).
There is an increasing focus on how individuals develop familiarity with a face. Research
has shown that people recognize familiar faces faster and with greater accuracy than unfamiliar
faces (e.g., Ellis, Shepherd, & Davies, 1979; Klatzky & Forrest, 1984). Familiarity is therefore
an important variable to consider in relation to eyewitness identification. Burton and colleagues
argue that unfamiliar faces are processed as patterns or visual images and may therefore be
processed differently than familiar faces. Moreover, studies have established that familiar and
unfamiliar face recognition performance is differentially affected by a variety of factors related
to variability of perceiving the same face in different contexts (within-face variability; e.g.,
changes in expression, lighting, distance, image clarity, viewpoint; for review see Burton, 2013).
As such, eyewitness identification of familiar faces may be qualitatively distinct from, and much
more accurate than, identification of unfamiliar faces (for a review, see Vallano, Slapinski,
Steele, Briggs, & Pozzulo, 2019).
The distinction between holistic and featural processing has been used to explain benefits
to face identification accuracy when an identification judgment is preceded by an unrelated
global processing task (Perfect, Dennis, & Snell, 2007). Further, the use of a holistic, as opposed
to a feature-based, encoding strategy has been shown to be associated with more correct
identifications and better calibration in an eyewitness context (Olsson & Juslin, 1999).
Configural processing has also been shown to underlie face recognition from simultaneous and
sequential lineups (Flowe, Smith, Karoğlu, Onwuegbusi, & Rai, 2016). Though both featural and
configural cues can aid recognition accuracy for facial composites, this information is also
susceptible to disruption by rotation and image blur (Frowd et al., 2014).
Distinctiveness & the Face-Space Model
As noted previously, the distinctiveness of a face relates to both the speed and accuracy
of its subsequent recognition (Vokey & Read, 1992). Similarly, caricatures that exaggerate
distinctive features of a face have been shown to facilitate face recognition (Byatt & Rhodes,
1998). Valentine’s (1991; Valentine et al., 2016) Face-Space Model provides an important
account for the representation of faces based upon such distinctive attributes. According to
Valentine, faces are represented in a multidimensional space where small changes in features and
configuration can have a large impact on appearance. These characteristics of a face comprise
the possible dimensions of the space. Within the space, faces that are typical in appearance (i.e.,
do not stand out in a crowd) are near the center, whereas distinctive faces (i.e., defined by the
speed in which a face is distinguished from others) lay increasingly further from the center.
Further, faces that are similar to one another will be located closer in the face space while
dissimilar faces lay further apart (in Euclidean distance). As such, typical faces will be
recognized “as faces” faster than distinctive faces (thereby rendering a higher value of
“familiarity”); however, the identity (or uniqueness) of distinctive faces will be recognized more
quickly than typical faces as a function of there being less noise and confusion in the space
(thereby rendering a higher value of “memorability”; Vokey & Read, 1992).
The Face-Space Model has been used to account for phenomena such as the cross-race
effect in face recognition (e.g., Chiroro & Valentine, 1995), and has served as the basis for
computational approaches that account for the perceptual learning and representation of faces
(see O’Toole, Abdi, Deffenbacher, & Valentin, 1995). Although the specific nuances of face
processing are not always considered in eyewitness identification research, several studies have
placed emphasis on face processing in relation to eyewitness identification. For example,
Lampinen, Erickson, Moore, and Hittson (2014) examined how face recognition accuracy
decreases as a function of increasing physical distance, with specific emphasis on a face-space
theory account for such an effect.
Individual Differences: Super-Recognizers and Prosopaganosics
Individual differences in face recognition are also apparent at two ends of the
performance spectrum: people with above average face recognition ability (super-recognizers;
Russell, Duchaine, & Nakayama, 2009) and people with significant deficits in their ability to
identify faces (prosopagnosics; Bodamer, 1947). Super-recognizers are individuals who have an
extraordinary ability to recognize faces from different angles and in different contexts. Recent
findings suggest these performance abilities may be due to superior encoding of facial
information (e.g., eyes and mouth, see Tardif et al., 2019; internal features, such as the nose, see
Bobak, Parris, Gregory, Bennetts, & Bate, 2017). Given their heightened identification abilities,
super-recognizers are desired in forensic contexts such as policing and border security screening
(e.g., Balsdon, Summersby, Kemp, & White, 2018; Robertson, 2018), although some have
advocated for greater caution prior to widespread use of super-recognizers in such arenas
(Ramon, Bobak, & White, 2019).
Individuals with prosopagnosia are unable to recognize faces that should be familiar, and
such deficits are often linked to lesions in the fusiform area of the brain (see Farah, 1990). A
number of process accounts of the condition have been proposed, including the role of the
fusiform area in responding to biological stimuli (e.g., Farah, Meyer, & McMullen, 1996);
responding to objects for which one has developed a perceptual expertise (e.g., Gauthier & Tarr,
1997); responding to objects that require additional processing beyond basic object recognition
(e.g., Gauthier, Anderson, Tarr, Skudlarski, & Gore, 1997); or responding to faces in particular
(e.g., Kanwisher et al., 1997). Individual differences in the ability to process unfamiliar faces, as
measured by such tasks as the Cambridge Face Memory Test (Duchaine & Nakayama, 2006),
appear to be related to eyewitness accuracy (e.g., Bindemann, Brown, Koyas, & Russ, 2012).
Theories of Social Influence & Decision Processes
Eyewitnesses do not make identification decisions or event reports in a vacuum. Rather,
individuals, such as other witnesses present at the time of the event or an investigator who is
administering the lineup, may influence an eyewitness’s behavior. The social and decision
processes that underlie this behavior change are also important to understanding eyewitness
identifications. Some of these processes will influence the likelihood of identification, while
others affect attributions made about an identification, such as confidence (for review, see
Eisenstadt & Leippe, 2010). Below we review several process perspectives that have been
explored in the literature. For example, the construct of confirmation bias has wide-ranging
implications for criminal justice procedures. Primary theories of social influence relevant to
eyewitness identification have also been applied, including seminal studies on conformity (Asch,
1952), obedience to authority (Milgram, 1974), and compliance to requests (Cialdini, 2001). In
an eyewitness context, such influence processes may stem from an investigator, such as when a
lineup administrator provides the witness with biased instructions, or by co-witnesses who might
share information. Finally, decision processes can relay important information about the likely
accuracy of an eyewitness response, and heuristics can influence how witnesses both evaluate
their memory and respond to future memory prompts.
Confirmation Bias
Confirmation bias refers to the tendency for people to seek and interpret information in
ways that align with their preexisting beliefs, and/or to ignore evidence that is contrary to such
beliefs (see Nickerson, 1998). There are numerous opportunities for confirmation bias to
influence the investigative and judicial process (for a review, see Kassin, Dror, & Kukucka,
2013). For example, prior expectations of guilt have been shown to influence an investigator’s
approach to questioning a suspect (Kassin, Goldstein, & Savitsky, 2003), increase the likelihood
of eliciting false confessions from innocent suspects (Narchet, Meissner, & Russano, 2011), and
bias perceptions of credibility (Meissner & Kassin, 2002). Knowledge of the suspect and a belief
in his guilt has also been shown to increase false identifications of a suspect in target-absent
arrays (see Kovera & Evelo, 2017). Herein, the effects of confirmation bias highlight the
potential benefits of a “blinded” investigator to the fair administration and diagnosticity of a
lineup (see Russano, Dickinson, Greathouse, & Kovera, 2006). This is essential given that an
eyewitness may perceive explicit or implicit cues from the administrator with regard to who the
suspect is, leading the suspect to respond according to such demand characteristics (e.g., Orne,
1962). In experimental settings, blind testing during a lineup task has been shown to reduce false
identifications from target-absent lineups (Haw & Fisher, 2004; Phillips, McAuliff, Kovera, &
Cutler, 1999) and increase the diagnostic value of an identification (Greathouse & Kovera,
Influence Processes
Social influence is a process whereby social forces, whether they be overt or subtle,
intentional or not, impact another person’s behavior. Such processes can vary based upon
whether the response is acquiescence to a request (i.e., compliance) or an adjustment to one’s
behaviors to match the responses of others (i.e., conformity; for a review, see Cialdini &
Goldstein, 2004). An important distinction is often made between conformity that results from
informational influence (wherein the motivation is to provide an accurate account of a situation
and behave correctly) and responses that result from normative influence (wherein the motivation
is to obtain social approval from others; Deutsch & Gerard, 1955). Both normative and
informational influences have been proposed to operate when biased instructions are provided to
a witness – namely, the normative influence suggests to the witness that the correct response is to
choose, and the informational influence suggests that the true perpetrator is present in the lineup
(Steblay, 1997). Biased instructions generally involve a failure to inform a witness that the
culprit may not be present in the lineup, or that the witness has the option not to choose anyone
from the lineup (e.g., Malpass & Devine, 1981). As a result, witnesses who receive biased
instructions make more false identifications from target-absent lineups and fewer lineup
rejections from target-present lineups (Steblay, 1997). Studies have also shown that biased
instructions increase correct identifications in target-present lineups, a finding that suggests such
instructions likely induce witnesses to lower their decision criterion for making an identification
and increase choosing behavior more generally (Clark, 2005).
Eyewitnesses are often in the presence of other co-witnesses, and surveys suggest that a
majority of witnesses report discussing the event with the others present at the crime scene
(Paterson & Kemp, 2006; Skagerberg & Wright, 2008). Such discussions can represent a form of
post-event misinformation that influence a witness’s subsequent memory reports (e.g., Gabbert,
Memon, & Allan, 2003). For instance, information learned from a co-witness may be more
impactful than misinformation encountered through other forms, such as leading questions or
written narratives (e.g., Gabbert, Memon, Allan, & Wright, 2004). One person’s memory report
can influence what another person subsequently claims to remember through a process called
memory conformity (Gabbert et al., 2003) or social contagion (Roediger, Meade, & Bergman,
2001). These two processes have been used to explain the nature of memory distortions in
various tasks that involve remembering in groups (for a review, see Wright, Memon, Skagerberg,
& Gabbert, 2009).
Characteristics of the source of social influence may also play a role in the magnitude of
conformity behaviors. For example, it is less likely that a witness will incorporate suggestions
from elderly co-witnesses (whom they may assume have a poor memory) into their memory
reports (Davis & Meade, 2013). Witnesses may also provide confidence estimates that emulate
that expressed by a confident co-witness (Goodwin, Kukucka, & Hawks, 2013). Co-witness
effects may result from a witness reporting details learned from another to avoid ostracism
(normative) or because the witness believes the information to be accurate and may distrust their
own memory (informational; Goodwin et al., 2013). The influence of source characteristics has
also been examined in the misinformation effect literature, where features such as the authority
(e.g., Henkel & Coffman, 2004; Toglia, Ross, Ceci, & Hembrooke, 1992), credibility (Gabbert,
Memon, & Wright, 2007), and attractiveness of the source (Vornik, Sharman, & Garry, 2003)
can increase a witness’s susceptibility to misleading post-event information (for review, see
Newman & Garry, 2013).
Decision Processes
Dual process theories of decision-making have also been assessed in the context of
eyewitness identifications. Such theories posit that judgments depend upon the processing of two
primary systems: System 1 is defined as a fast, automatic, and effortless process, while System 2
is a slower and more consciously controlled process (for review see Kahneman, 2011). In the
eyewitness context, automatic processes were posited to be associated with familiarity and “pop
out” effects that fail to include explicit cognitive strategies for reaching a decision, whereas
deliberative processes involved more effortful, conscious, “process of elimination” strategies
(Dunning & Perretta, 2002; Dunning & Stern, 1994). Studies have suggested that eyewitness
identifications made with automatic decision processes are more likely to be accurate when
compared with identifications made following a process of elimination, particularly when such
decisions are made within a brief period of time (Dunning & Perretta, 2002; Seale-Carlisle et al.,
2017; however, see Brewer, Caon, Todd, & Weber, 2006). Subsequent research, however, has
found that both confidence and latency may offer a more theoretical and practical basis for
evaluating identification accuracy (Brewer & Weber, 2008; Sauerland & Sporer, 2009).
After an eyewitness has chosen someone from a lineup, an administrator may offer
confirmation that the witness has identified the suspect. This post-identification feedback has
been shown to have robust effects on confidence inflation (Wells & Bradfield, 1998; see
Douglass & Smalarz, 2019; Douglass & Steblay, 2006). Such feedback can also influence how a
witness subsequently evaluates the quality of their memory for the event (e.g., reported quality of
view of the suspect; Wells & Bradfield, 1998; 1999) without affecting memory for other aspects
of the event (e.g., details about the perpetrator or the crime itself; Dixon & Memon, 2005). This
confidence inflation has been considered to be a type of hindsight bias (Fischhoff, 1975) or self-
perception effect (Bem, 1967). The former interpretation suggests that post-identification
feedback reinforces a witness’s mistaken belief that they “knew it all along,” whereas the latter
interpretation suggests that feedback encourages a witness to make inferences about their own
identification as an outside observer would (e.g., an observer might infer an accurate
identification was made with more confidence than inaccurate identification). Such decision
biases likely affect witnesses’ retrospective metacognitive assessments and therein influence the
perceived quality of identification evidence by legal decision makers.
In lieu of specific effects or phenomena, our review has focused on cognitive and social
psychological processes that are inextricably linked to eyewitness identification decisions. It is
clear that the eyewitness context offers an important opportunity to assess the generalizability of
basic theories of attention, memory, face recognition, social influence, and decision-making.
Further, as we have argued elsewhere (Lane & Meissner, 2008), the eyewitness context affords
scholars a ‘middle road’ to engage in the development and refinement of relevant theoretical
frameworks. Herein, applied contexts afford important tests of theory, allowing us to understand
their limits and necessary extensions.
As may be clear from our review, we also believe that eyewitness tasks, whether
involving identification or event recall, are not unique with respect to their underlying processes.
Greater attention to a process perspective, rooted in the rich theoretical backdrops of cognitive
and social psychology, is more likely to enhance our understanding of eyewitness decisions and
lead to novel applications that leverage core processes. Such work will, at times, require that
scholars adapt their methods to bridge epistemological and ecological features (Hoffman &
Deffenbacher, 1993), ensuring a connection between the ‘low road’ and ‘high road’ of research
that Neisser (1978, 1982) so eloquently described. Therein, scholars may need to sacrifice
adherence to certain ecological features of the eyewitness task, allowing for greater internal
validity to assesses key psychological processes. In this context, converging methodologies will
ultimately afford researchers a more complete understanding of the eyewitness task.
In closing, we echo again the call of prior scholars (Brewer et al., 2007; Turtle et al.,
2008) to embrace theory in a manner that grounds our science in core principles and processes.
We encourage eyewitness researchers to look first to theory as they design experiments and seek
to understand various system and estimator effects. Doing so, we believe, will strengthen our
understanding of the variety of eyewitness phenomena we observe and establish our field more
firmly on the bedrock of psychological science.
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Objective: The Executive Committee of the American Psychology-Law Society (Division 41 of the American Psychological Association) appointed a subcommittee to update the influential 1998 scientific review paper on guidelines for eyewitness identification procedures. Method: This was a collaborative effort by six senior eyewitness researchers, who all participated in the writing process. Feedback from members of AP-LS and the legal communities was solicited over an 18-month period. Results: The results yielded nine recommendations for planning, designing, and conducting eyewitness identification procedures. Four of the recommendations were from the 1998 article and concerned the selection of lineup fillers, prelineup instructions to witnesses, the use of double-blind procedures, and collection of a confidence statement. The additional five recommendations concern the need for law enforcement to conduct a prelineup interview of the witness, the need for evidence-based suspicion before conducting an identification procedure, video-recording of the entire procedure, avoiding repeated identification attempts with the same witness and same suspect, and avoiding the use of showups when possible and improving how showups are conducted when they are necessary. Conclusions: The reliability and integrity of eyewitness identification evidence is highly dependent on the procedures used by law enforcement for collecting and preserving the eyewitness evidence. These nine recommendations can advance the reliability and integrity of the evidence. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).
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Sleep aids the consolidation of recently acquired memories. Evidence strongly indicates that sleep yields substantial improvements on recognition memory tasks relative to an equivalent period of wake. Despite the known benefits that sleep has on memory, researchers have not yet investigated the impact of sleep on eyewitness identifications. Eyewitnesses to crimes are often presented with a line-up (which is a type of recognition memory test) that contains the suspect (who is innocent or guilty) and fillers (who are known to be innocent). Sleep may enhance the ability to identify the guilty suspect and not identify the innocent suspect (i.e. discriminability). Sleep may also impact reliability (i.e. the likelihood that the identified suspect is guilty). In the current study, we manipulated the presence or the absence of sleep in a forensically relevant memory task. Participants witnessed a video of a mock crime, made an identification or rejected the line-up, and rated their confidence. Critically, some participants slept between witnessing the crime and making a line-up decision, while others remained awake. The prediction that participants in the sleep condition would have greater discriminability compared to participants in the wake condition was not supported. There were also no differences in reliability.
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The criminal justice system should consider the confidence an eyewitness expresses when making an identification at the time the initial lineup procedure is conducted. High confidence expressed at this time typically indicates high accuracy in the identification. Because the suspect identification – not filler identifications or no identifications – matters most in the court of law, confidence-accuracy characteristic (CAC) analysis provides information most relevant to stakeholders. However, just as high confidence identifications indicate high accuracy, fast identifications may also indicate high accuracy. We tested whether a new technique that is similar to CAC analysis, called response time-accuracy characteristic (RAC) analysis, could inform stakeholders about the likely accuracy of an identification while usefully summarizing response time data. We argue this is the case in the lab and in the real world. Furthermore, CAC and RAC results are not completely redundant so both, considered together, are useful to the criminal justice system.
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Eyewitness memory can be distorted by simple comments received after an identification decision is made. When these comments suggest that the identification decision was correct, they inflate witnesses’ recollections of how confident they were, how good their view was, and other testimony-relevant judgments. This post-identification feedback effect is a robust phenomenon with significant implications for judging the reliability of eyewitness evidence. For example, research showing particularly powerful effects of feedback on witnesses who have made mistaken decisions presents a significant risk to wrongly identified people. In the current chapter, we begin with an overview of 20 years of research on the feedback effect. Next, we analyze how feedback research has factored into two recent state supreme court decisions and a U.S. Supreme Court decision. After reviewing the court decisions, we discuss the potential for feedback research to both strengthen and refine system variable reforms as outlined in the 2017 Department of Justice memorandum on eyewitness identification procedures. Finally, we present future research suggestions including the imperative to study how feedback might emerge in new ways (e.g., through witnesses’ own “investigations” using social media).
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There is widespread belief in the legal system that alcohol impairs witness testimony. Nevertheless, most laboratory studies examining the effects of alcohol on witness testimony suggest that alcohol may affect the number of correct but not incorrect details recalled. However, it is difficult to draw conclusions because sample sizes, testing paradigms and recall measures vary between individual studies. We conducted a meta‐analysis to address this issue. We found alcohol intoxication had a significant and moderate sized effect on the number of correct details recalled (g = 0.40). The effect of alcohol on the number of incorrect details recalled was not significant. Further, the effect of alcohol on the recall of correct details was significantly moderated by multiple factors like intoxication level, the retention interval length between encoding and recall and the types of questions asked (i.e., free recall versus cued recall). We discuss the applied implications of the results.
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Perpetrators often wear disguises like ski masks to hinder subsequent identification by witnesses or law enforcement officials. In criminal cases involving a masked perpetrator, the decision of whether and how to administer a lineup often rests on the investigating officer. To date, no evidence-based recommendations are available for eyewitness identifications of a masked perpetrator. In 4 experiments, we examined lineup identification performance depending on variations in both encoding (studying a full face vs. a partial/masked face) and retrieval conditions (identifying a target from a full-face lineup vs. a partial/masked-face lineup). In addition, we manipulated whether the target was present or absent in the lineup in Experiments 3 and 4. Across all experiments, when participants had encoded a masked face, the masked-face lineup increased identification accuracy relative to the full-face lineup. These data provide preliminary evidence that matching lineup construction to how witnesses originally encoded the perpetrator may enhance the accuracy of eyewitness identifications.
Many factors that affect eyewitness identification accuracy do not affect the accuracy of high-confidence identifications. This is critical because legal cases are more likely to be prosecuted if they involve high-confidence eyewitnesses. Using a confidence–accuracy characteristic (CAC) analysis, we tested whether marijuana affects eyewitness memory generally and the accuracy of high-confidence judgments specifically. Marijuana users (N = 114) were randomly assigned to a marijuana or control condition and participated in a face recognition memory test with confidence ratings. Marijuana reduced identification accuracy (Cohen's d = .47), and the proportion correct for positive identifications, even at high-confidence, was significantly lower in the marijuana than control condition. Furthermore, marijuana impaired metacognitive awareness more generally; control (but not marijuana) participants provided more high-confidence ratings to faces studied for 5 s than 1.5 s. All high-confidence identifications are not equally likely to be correct, and stoned eyewitnesses do not make good eyewitnesses.
This article examines “familiar identifications,” or identifications where an eyewitness explicitly states that she has seen the perpetrator before the crime. The first section of this article reviews the literature on familiar identification accuracy. Although these identifications can be of high accuracy they are far from infallible, particularly in cases of minimal prior exposure and poor viewing conditions during the crime. Limitations and areas for future research are discussed. Specifically, we note the ill-defined nature of familiarity within the research and its oft-misleading treatment as a dichotomous construct, and therefore emphasize its continuous nature and recommend more ecologically valid research with “ground truth” data be conducted to examine how its differing degrees interact with other estimator variables. The second section of this article reviews how federal and state courts commonly deal with familiar identifications. The case law reveals that many courts believe any amount of familiarity enhances eyewitness memory and identification accuracy, which sometimes (correctly or incorrectly) lessens concerns over other variables known to lower identification accuracy (e.g., poor viewing conditions, a showup identification procedure). Consequentially, courts sometimes use familiarity to deny motions to suppress eyewitness evidence along with refusing to admit eyewitness experts and jury instructions. We discuss how well courts’ decisions align with the research while providing concrete recommendations for expert witnesses and legal officials in familiar identification cases. Specifically, we argue that claimed familiarity should be examined for its veracity and its effects on identification accuracy be evaluated in relation to other estimator and system variables.
Face-recognition abilities differ largely in the neurologically typical population. We examined how the use of information varies with face-recognition ability from developmental prosopagnosics to super-recognizers. Specifically, we investigated the use of facial features at different spatial scales in 112 individuals, including 5 developmental prosopagnosics and 8 super-recognizers, during an online famous-face-identification task using the bubbles method. We discovered that viewing of the eyes and mouth to identify faces at relatively high spatial frequencies is strongly correlated with face-recognition ability, evaluated from two independent measures. We also showed that the abilities of developmental prosopagnosics and super-recognizers are explained by a model that predicts face-recognition ability from the use of information built solely from participants with intermediate face-recognition abilities ( n = 99). This supports the hypothesis that the use of information varies quantitatively from developmental prosopagnosics to super-recognizers as a function of face-recognition ability.