University of Calgary

Belief of eyewitness identification evidence


Melissa Boyce
Beaudry, Jennifer
Lindsay, R. C. L.


Handbook of Eyewitness Psychology (Vol 2)


With respect to belief of eyewitness identification evidence, three issues are examined in this chapter: (1) Do jurors believe eyewitnesses? If eyewitness evidence has no impact, then mistaken identification as an issue is less serious than it would otherwise be. However, we show that eyewitness evidence is believed. This leads to the second issue: (2) Can people discriminate between accurate and inaccurate eyewitnesses? If people can make this distinction, then eyewitnesses will be believed only when they are accurate and disregarded when they are not. The innocent would still suffer the social and financial hardships associated with arrest and trial but would rarely be convicted as a result of mistaken identification. However, we show that people are not able to make this distinction, believing accurate and inaccurate eyewitnesses about equally. This brings us to the final issue: (3) Are cues available that can help people to calibrate their belief of the likelihood that an eyewitness is accurate? If so, then eyewitnesses will be believed in those situations in which they are most likely to be correct and not believed when they are least likely to be correct, but only to the extent that jurors can be taught these cues and how to look for them. The importance of this issue arises because of people''''''''s inability to discriminate an accurate eyewitness from one who is inaccurate. If people cannot discriminate accuracy, can they effectively increase the probability that their decisions about eyewitness accuracy will be correct by basing their belief on factors that actually affect eyewitness accuracy? The issue is not whether there is evidence that could permit such calibration, but rather whether people in general use the available information to inform their decisions appropriately. Unfortunately, as we will show, the research indicates that this also is not the case, as people tend to base their belief on some factors that do not reflect the likelihood that a correct identification was made and frequently ignore other information that could be useful. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of these findings for the criminal justice system and practitioners within it.


Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Powered by UNITIS. More features.