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Misidentifications of innocent individuals in photospread lineups may arise from faulty assessments by eyewitnesses of their levels of perceptual or contextual knowledge about a target person. Eyewitness memory research has generally placed the burden of the responsibility for misidentifications on the first of these; that is, when witnesses have inadequate levels of perceptual knowledge. In contrast, for the “unconscious transference” type of misidentification it has been argued that an innocent bystander has been misidentified, not because perceptual knowledge or the sense of familiarity that arose from it was inadequate, but because the witness relied on this knowledge to the neglect of other, contextual, information. As a result, a level of perceived familiarity normally adequate for a recognition decision alone also served as the basis for an identification decision.
The present chapter maintains this distinction between recognition and identification decisions and asks what additional information accompanies the witness’ shift from a recognition to an identification decision, and to what extent perceived familiarity is the basis for one or both of these decisions. Analyses of our subjects’ responses collected prior to an identification task suggested that their misidentifications were based on a combination of perceived familiarity, contextual recall, and the use of conscious inferential processes that provided a rationale for the selection of the most plausible lineup member. In short, the identification task was perhaps seen by our subject-witnesses as a problem to be solved, one in which a decision was arrived at by assessing the relative plausibility as well as the relative similarity (compare Lindsay & Johnson, 1989; Wells, 1984; 1992) of each lineup member.
Adult Eyewitness Testimony: Current Trends and Developments provides an overview of empirical research on eyewitness testimony and identification accuracy, covering both theory and application. The volume is organized to address three important issues. First, what are the cognitive, social and physical factors that influence the accuracy of eyewitness reports? Second, how should lineups be constructed and verbal testimony be taken to improve the chances of obtaining accurate information? And third, whose testimony should be believed? Are there differences between accurate and inaccurate witnesses, and can jurors make such a distinction? Adult Eyewitness Testimony: Current Trends and Developments is crucial reading for memory researchers, as well as police officers, judges, lawyers and other members of the judicial system.
The impetus for this book was a symposium that was presented at the American Psychological Society meeting in Washington, D.C. in June of 1991. Following the symposium there was a general agreement among the six symposium contributors of the need for an edited volume directed at surveying the wide range of topics on eyewitness testimony that were being investigated. As many observers have noted, the field of psychology and the law has seen enormous growth within the last decade and within this broad field the topic of eyewitness testimony has received a great deal of attention. Because there had not been a volume dedicated to adult eyewitness testimony since the 1984 classic, Eyewitness Testimony: Psychological Perspectives, edited by Gary Wells and Elizabeth Loftus and published by Cambridge University Press, we embarked on this project to fill a void in the literature. We chose topics that are representative of the diversity of research currently being conducted in the field.
In the history of the legal system, there are numerous examples of individuals who have been accused, tried, and convicted of crimes they did not commit. These unfortunate events can follow the misidentification of an innocent person from a police lineup by an eyewitness when the court has accepted and weighted the identification evidence heavily in its decision. The present volume is designed to provide an overview of current empirical research on adult eyewitness testimony and identification accuracy, providing insight into theory and application. The volume contains eighteen chapters written by psycholegal researchers from the United States, Canada, Scotland, and Germany.