Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Evolution of the Empirical and Theoretical Foundations of Eyewitness Identification Reform

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Evolution of the Empirical and Theoretical Foundations of Eyewitness Identification Reform

Article excerpt

Published online: 21 November 2013

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract Scientists in many disciplines have begun to raise questions about the evolution of research findings over time (Ioannidis in Epidemiology, 19, 640-648, 2008; Jennions & Møller in Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences, 269,43-48, 2002; Mullen, Muellerleile, & Bryan inPersonalityandSocialPsychologyBulletin,27,1450-1462, 2001; Schooler in Nature, 470, 437, 2011), since many phenomena exhibit decline effects-reductions in the magnitudes of effect sizes as empirical evidence accumulates. The present article examines empirical and theoretical evolution in eyewitness identification research. For decades, the field has held that there are identification procedures that, if implemented by law enforcement, would increase eyewitness accuracy, either by reducing false identifications, with little or no change in correct identifications, or by increasing correct identifications, with little or no change in false identifications. Despite the durability of this no-cost view, it is unambiguously contradicted by data (Clark in Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7 , 238-259, 2012a; Clark & Godfrey in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 16,22-42, 2009; Clark, Moreland, & Rush, 2013;Palmer& Brewer in Law and Human Behavior, 36, 247-255, 2012), raising questions as to how the no-cost view became well-accepted and endured for so long. Our analyses suggest that (1) seminal studies produced, or were interpreted as having produced, the no-cost pattern of results; (2) a compelling theory was developed that appeared to account for the no-cost pattern; (3) empirical results changed over the years, and subsequent studies did not reliably replicate the no-cost pattern; and (4) the no-cost view survived despite the accumulation of contradictory empirical evidence. Theories of memory that were ruled out by early data now appear to be supported by data, and the theory developed to account for early data now appears to be incorrect.

Keywords Eyewitness memory . Memory . Replicability . Decline effects

"Many hypotheses proposed by scientists as well as non- scientists turn out to be wrong. But science is a self-correcting enterprise. To be accepted, all new ideas must survive rigorous standards of evidence" (Sagan, 1980,p.73).Thisarticleis about the evolution of data and theory in psychological science, how ideas that are later shown to be false become widely held in the first place, and how they are maintained despite the accu- mulation of disconfirming evidence.

This article focuses specifically on data and theory related to eyewitness identification. There is a consensus among social scientists and legal scholars that mistaken eyewitness identifi- cation is a primary cause of wrongful convictions in the U.S. (Garrett, 2011; Gross, Jacoby, Matheson, Montgomery, & Patil, 2005;Gross&Shaffer,2012). The link between false convic- tions and false identifications, combined with over 100 years of psychological research on eyewitness memory (Loftus, 1979; Munsterberg, 1908), has led researchers to recommend proce- dural changes to increase the accuracy of eyewitness identifi- cation evidence and reduce the risk of false identification errors that send innocent people to prison. Examples of these recom- mendations include the following: constructing lineups in such a way that the suspect does not stand out; instructing the witness that the perpetrator of the crime may not be in the lineup; presenting the lineup members sequentially, rather than all at once; and refraining from behaviors that could influence the witness's decision.

Many state and local law enforcement jurisdictions have adopted the new procedures, including the states of Connecticut, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin, as well as Denver, CO, Santa Clara, CA, Suffolk County, MA, and Ramsey and Hennepin Counties, MN. This reform movement has gained considerable momentum in the last few years, "like a runaway train" (Wells, quoted by Hansen, 2012). …

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