Think fast! Is this the perpetrator? How certain are you?
Eye witness identification is notoriously inaccurate, but some researchers are figuring out ways to make it better. We have brought you information about how you can increase the accuracy of witness recall through the simple act of having a witness close their eyes. And now we learn that you can increase the accuracy of eye witness IDs by simply forcing eye witnesses to respond quickly.
Researchers tested a “radical alternative” to traditional police lineups. Participants were both college students and community members (with an age range of 16 to 60 years across three different experiments). Rather than a lineup with multiple suspects to consider, researchers showed photos of individual suspects in a sequential presentation. According to the researchers, past research shows that strong memories are accessed more rapidly than weak ones and accurate eyewitness IDs are made much more quickly than inaccurate identifications.
Participants viewed a series of 12 lineup photos (although they did not know how many they would view) and were asked to identify a crime perpetrator from a video they had watched either immediately prior to the lineup presentation or a week earlier. (The two conditions were employed to see if the delay in seeing a lineup would affect accuracy in identification.)
The researchers asked participants to do two things:
First, the participants rated their confidence in the correctness of their “match” between the culprit and each lineup member (with a scoring system that ranged from total uncertainty to 100% certainty). Control participants answered a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ about whether the photograph depicted the perpetrator.
Second, the participants in the experimental condition had to perform the matching process with “severe time constraints” (a three second time limit). Control participants viewed the photo and then selected ‘yes’ or ‘no’ without the three second time constraint.
Consistent with past research, the researchers found a higher level of accuracy (66% more accurate by the final experiment) in those participants asked to decide quickly whether the photograph was indeed the perpetrator. The more certain the participant was of the match, the more accurate they were.
This is important research in terms of improving eye witness accuracy. As the researchers point out, it is a radical change from current procedures–and thus more research is needed. Should the increase in accuracy be replicated, this could be a much more accurate way to assess eye witness identification and therefore reduce wrongful convictions.
Brewer, N., Weber, N., & Wootton, D. (2012). Identifying the bad guy in a lineup using deadlined confidence judgments. Psychological Science.
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