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Effects of Internal Versus External Distinctive Facial Features on Eyewitness Identification

NCJ Number
Applied Cognitive Psychology Volume: 38 Issue: 1 Dated: Jan 2024 Pages: e4186
Date Published
January 2024

This article reports on a research study that sought to determine the impacts of distinctive facial features, such as tattoos, on eyewitness memory and accuracy of recall for lineup identification.


Many criminals have distinctive facial features such as tattoos, yet the potential impact on eyewitness memory has received little research attention. Does such a feature harm memory for the face at encoding, and can police do anything about this when constructing the lineup? Does it matter whether the feature is on the interior (e.g., tattoo on face) or exterior (e.g., tattoo on neck)? These are the kinds of questions that the authors investigated by randomly assigning a large nationwide sample of online participants to conditions within an experimental design in which we manipulated target exposure time, presence (and location) of a distinctive feature, and whether it is replicated or removed from lineup members. Results indicate that a distinctive feature harms memory for the face regardless of location, but replicating the feature in the lineup may attenuate this effect. Fortunately, high confidence was indicative of high accuracy regardless of the authors’ manipulations. (Published Abstract Provided)

Date Published: January 1, 2024