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Description: Consider the best (fairest and most accurate) way to gather information from eyewitnesses. Specifically, think about the standard police procedure of using line-ups in which, usually, 6 individuals are lined up on the other side of a one way window or 6 photos are gathered together and possible witnesses to a crime are asked to look and say if one of the people in the line-up or photo array was the person (perpetrator) the witness may have observed at the crime scene or committing the crime. What have you heard of in the way of research (not necessarily what you have seen in police shows on TV) about the ways such lieu -ups can or should be done in order to limit false-positives (in which someone is identified but who was not actually the perpetrator) or false negatives, (where the perpetrator is there but not identified)? In the case of false-negatives, fewer such memory errors have been shown to occur when the line-up is sequential (each of 6 people or photos are viewed one at a time on their own) as opposed to simultaneously (all 6 people or photos viewed at once). Now think about how this might play out over time. In many cases involving line-ups witnesses are asked to pick out the assailant or perpetrator a number of times (e.g., early in investigations, in preparation for trial and again during in-court eyewitness testimony). Can you think of some eye-witness memory issues that may arise in relation to such time/timeline scenarios? Once you have your hypothesis in order ready the article linked below that describes some research in this exact question.

Source: One and Done: Researchers Urge Test Eyewitness Memory Only Once, Association for Psychological Science.

Date: November 3, 2021

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Article Link: https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/2021-nov-pspi-eyewitness-one-and-done.html

So, did the “that person looks familiar” effect of multiple instances of the “same” eyewitness assessment occur to you as a problem? The research and the specific case example provided in the article make it clear that is an issue that, like the sequential/simultaneous presentation issue described above should be used (along with supporting research) to review and perhaps reconsider how eyewitness identifications are handled withing the justice system.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What are the differences between a sequential and simultaneous line-up (which is better)?
  2. How do current practices in eye-witness report management effect the validity of those reports?
  3. What might justice system practice guidelines for managing eyewitness reports look like if the research discussed in the linked article is seriously considered?

References (Read Further):

Wixted, J. T., Wells, G. L., Loftus, E. F., & Garrett, B. L. (2021). Test a witness’s memory of a suspect only once. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 22(1_suppl), 1S-18S. Link

Lindsay, R. C., & Wells, G. L. (1985). Improving eyewitness identifications from lineups: Simultaneous versus sequential lineup presentation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 70(3), 556. Link

Wells, G. L., Rydell, S. M., & Seelau, E. P. (1993). The selection of distractors for eyewitness lineups. Journal of Applied Psychology, 78(5), 835. Link

Lee, J., & Penrod, S. D. (2019). New signal detection theory-based framework for eyewitness performance in lineups. Law and human behavior, 43(5), 436. Link

Fitzgerald, R. J., Price, H. L., & Valentine, T. (2018). Eyewitness identification: Live, photo, and video lineups. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 24(3), 307. Link

Oriet, C., & Fitzgerald, R. J. (2018). The single lineup paradigm: A new way to manipulate target presence in eyewitness identification experiments. Law and Human Behavior, 42(1), 1. Link

Smith, A. M., Smalarz, L., Ditchfield, R., & Ayala, N. T. (2021). Evaluating the claim that high confidence implies high accuracy in eyewitness identification. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. Link

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