The reliability of eyewitness identification

Research paper by Brian L. Cutler, Steven D. Penrod, Todd K. Martens

Indexed on: 01 Sep '87Published on: 01 Sep '87Published in: Law and Human Behavior


This study examines the effects of 14 estimator variables (e.g., disguise of robber, exposure time, weapon visibility) and system variables (e.g., lineup instructions, exposure to mugshots) on a number of measures of eyewitness performance: identification accuracy, choosing rates, confidence in lineup choice, relation between confidence and identification accuracy, memory for peripheral details, memory for physical characteristics of target, and time estimates. Subjects viewed a videotaped reenactment of an armed robbery and later attempted an identification. Characteristics of the videotape and lineup task were manipulated. Prominent findings were as follows: identification accuracy was affected by both estimator and system variables including disguise of robber, weapon visibility, elaboration instructions, and lineup instructions. Memory for peripheral details was positively correlated with choosing on the identification task but negatively correlated with identification accuracy.