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UPDATE RE: EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY

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Here is some of the latest research on the so important subject of eyewitnesses and how they remember---or at least how they think they do! There is also a bibliography included so you may pinpoint your specific area of interest.  By the way, most of the journals cited are psychology or medical journals.  If you'd like help tracking any of them down, just contact me (Vicky Campagna, 650-368-8318 or drvicky@rcn.com) and I'll be glad to help.

1.    Our memories are not video cameras; we are not able to record an event in our memory, to be retrieved later when we summon it.

2.    It is more accurate to say that our memory is an imperfect mechanism that can easily be distorted by external influences.

3.    Remembering something is actually a 3-step process.  First, we have to store something in our memory.  This is done selectively: no one is able to remember every detail of his life.  For example, can you recall what is printed on the back of a $1 bill? 

4.    After we store something in our memory, we then have to keep it there.  Our ability to do this is affected by how recent the memory is, how long we paid attention to it while we were having the experience, and how much new information we’ve since processed.

5.    Memory for faces is greatly influenced by how many times we’ve seen that face.  This explains why you may easily recognize an old school chum after 20 years, but fail to recognize your new neighbor.  The school friend was seen daily for a long period of time, whereas the new neighbor has been seen only a few times.  Brief exposure to an event or person greatly reduces the probability of accurate recall.

6.    All of the above helps to explain why eyewitness testimony is not as reliable as it would appear to be.  Simultaneous line-ups are particularly troublesome, because witnesses are likely to make a “relative identification”: which of the people in the line-up looks most like the person the witness “remembers” seeing, relative to each other.

7.    Far more preferable are sequential line-ups, in which the witness looks at each person individually and asks himself “does this person look like the one that I saw?”  Sequential line-ups thereby result in fewer misidentifications, as opposed to the simultaneous line-up procedure.

Partial Bibliography of Eye Witness Research

Behrman, B.W. Eyewitness identification in actual criminal cases: an archival analysis. (Law Hum Behavior, 2001 Oct; Vol. 25 (5)

Brodsky, Stanley L.; Hooper, Nicole E.; Tipper, Donald G.; Attorney invasion of witness space. Law & Psychology Review, Vol 23, Spr 1999

Clark, S. E.  A memory and decision model for eyewitness identification. Applied Cognitive Psychology, Sep2003, Vol. 17 Issue 6, p629

Cutler, B. & S. Penrod (1995) Mistaken Identification: The Eyewitness, Psychology and the Law. NY: Oxford University Press.

Durham, M., Dane, FrancisJuror knowledge of eyewitness behavior: Evidence for the necessity of expert testimony. Journal of Social Behavior & Personality, Jun99, Vol. 14 Issue 2

Klotter, J. (1996) Criminal Evidence. 6th edition. Cincinnati: Anderson Press.

Koehnken, G., R. Malpass, & M. Wogalter (1996) "Forensic Applications of Line-Up  Research" Pp. 205-232 in Sporer et al. Psychological Issues in Eyewitness Identification.NJ:Lawrence Erlbaum.

Lahey, B. (1998) Psychology: An Introduction. Chapter 6: Memory, Pp. 211-241. NY: McGraw-Hill.

Liepe, M.R., Eisenstadt, D., Rauch, S.M., Sieb, M.R. Timing of Eyewitness Expert Testimony, Jurors' Need for Cognition, and Case Strength as Determinants of Trial Verdicts. Journal of Applied Psychology. Vol. 89 (3) June 2004, pp. 524-541

Loftus, E. (1980) Memory: Surprising New Insights into How We Remember and Why.  MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing.

Loftus, E. (1994) The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations  of Sexual Abuse. NY: St. Martin's Press.

Loftus, E. (1996) Eyewitness Testimony. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Malpass, R. & J. Kravitz (1987) "Recognition for Faces of Own and Other Races" Pp. 178-86 in Wrightsman et. al. On the Witness Stand. CA: Sage.

Malpass, R. (1996) "Enhancing Eyewitness Testimony" Pp. 177-204 in Sporer et al. Psychological Issues in Eyewitness Identification. NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

McCloskey, M. & H. Egeth (1987) "Eyewitness Identification: What Can a
Psychologist Tell a Jury?" Pp. 194-222 in Wrightsman et. al. On the Witness Stand. CA: Sage.

Putnam, W. (1987) "Hypnosis and Distortions in Eyewitness Memory" Pp. 66-77 in  Wrightsman et. al. On the Witness Stand. CA: Sage.

Rutledge, D. (1993) Courtroom Survival: The Officer's Guide to Better Testimony.
CA: Copperhouse Publishing.

Sigler, J.N.; Couch, J.V. Eyewitness testimony and the jury verdict. North American Journal of Psychology, Vol 4(1), 2002

Skolnick, Paul; Shaw, Jerry I. A comparison of eyewitness and physical evidence on mock-juror decision making. Criminal Justice & Behavior, Vol 28(5), Oct 2001

Sporer, S., R. Malpass, Guenter Koehnken (1996) (eds.) Psychological Issues in Eyewitness Identification. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Smith, S.M., Lindsay, R.C.L. Pryke, Sean; Dysart, Jennifer E.  POSTDICTORS OF EYEWITNESS ERRORS Can False Identifications Be Diagnosed in the Cross-Race Situation?. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. Vol. 7 (1) March 2001,

Valentine, T., Pickering, A., Darling, S. Characteristics of eyewitness identification that predict the outcome of real lineups. Applied Cognitive Psychology, Dec 2003, Vol. 17 Issue 8

Wall, P. (1965) Eyewitness Identification in Criminal Cases. Springfield, IL:
Charles C. Thomas Books.

Wellman, F. (1992) The Art of Cross-Examination. NY: Barnes and Noble Books.

Wells, G., Olson, E.  EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY. By: Wells, Gary L.; Olson, Elizabeth A.. Annual Review of Psychology, 2003, Vol. 54 Issue 1, p277,

Wells, G. (1987) "Applied Eyewitness Testimony Research: System Variables and
Estimator Variables" Pp. 139-56 in Wrightsman et. al. On the Witness Stand. CA: Sage.

Wise, R.A., Safer, M.A.  What US judges know and believe about eyewitness testimony. Applied Cognitive Psychology, May2004, Vol. 18 Issue 4

Wrightsman, L., C. Willis, and S. Kassin (1987) (eds.) On the Witness Stand:  Controversies in the Courtroom. CA: Sage Publications.

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Vicky Campagna, LMFT, PhD
165 Arch St.,
Redwood City CA 94062
Phone: 650-368-8318
Fax: 650-679-9378