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Accuracy, Confidence, and Juror Perceptions in Eyewitness Identification

NCJ Number
Journal of Applied Psychology Volume: 64 Issue: 4 Dated: (August 1979) Pages: 440-448
G L Wells; R C L Lindsay; T J Ferguson
Date Published
9 pages
A study focusing on whether a witness who makes a false identification of a defendant will have as much courtroom impact as a witness who makes an accurate identification is presented.
Study subjects were 328 introductory psychology students from the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. A total of 127 subjects were randomly selected to serve as witnesses, and the remaining 201 served as jurors. The 127 students witnessed the staged theft of a calculator. They were then given the opportunity to identify the thief from a six-person display of photographs. From this sample, 24 accurate identification witnesses and 18 inaccurate identification witnesses were cross-examined before the jurors. Both leading and nonleading questions were employed for different groups. Subject jurors were then asked whether they believed that the witness had made a correct identification. Analysis of the response data indicates that jurors were unable to distinguish accurate from inaccurate witnesses across the 42 cross-examination sessions. However, jurors grouped in the leading questions condition were significantly more likely to believe accurate than inaccurate witnesses, whereas the reverse effect held for the nonleading questions condition. Jurors' attributions of witness confidence were unrelated to witness accuracy, even though these attributions accounted for 50 percent of the variance in jurors' decisions to believe witnesses. Current data indicate that among witnesses who made a choice, 74 percent were accurate. This figure is reasonably close to the 79.8 percent figure that represents the jurors' rate of belief. Nevertheless, it is unclear what would happen to the jurors' rate of belief if the crime would have been of the type that produced a low rate of accuracy. It is possible that jurors are overbelieving of witnesses, and that the rate of belief is around 80 percent regardless of the actual rate of witness accuracy. Tables, footnotes, and approximately 12 references are included in the study.


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