Author: Laura Smalarz
Mistaken but highly confident eyewitness testimony has been used to convict innocent people in more than 220 criminal cases in the United States.
Research has shown that confirming post-identification feedback (e.g., "good job, you identified the suspect") commonly given to eyewitnesses might be partially to blame for these wrongful convictions because it inflates eyewitnesses’ reports of their confidence and impairs the ability of evaluators to discern whether an eyewitness made an accurate or a mistaken identification.
The purpose of this study was to test a safeguard for protecting against and correcting for the impairing effects of confirming post-identification feedback on evaluators’ abilities to discriminate between accurate and mistaken eyewitness testimony.
The research tested video recording pre-feedback eyewitness statements at the time of the identification. These pre-feedback eyewitness statements were videotaped and were later shown to some evaluators, but not others, as the evaluators made judgments about the accuracy of eyewitnesses’ testimonies.
Five main findings from the research are:
1. Evaluators in this experiment were able to discriminate reliably between accurate and mistaken eyewitness identification testimony.
2. Confirming feedback did not appear to have any influence on witnesses in the no pre-feedback statements condition.
3. Confirming feedback did not impair evaluators’ abilities to discriminate between accurate and mistaken eyewitnesses in the conditions in which witnesses provided pre-feedback statements.
4. Showing witnesses’ pre-feedback statements to evaluators did not improve evaluators’ abilities to discriminate between accurate and mistaken eyewitnesses who received feedback.
5. Evaluators tended to judge witnesses who gave no pre-feedback statements more favorably than they judged witnesses who gave pre-feedback statements.
The findings show the potential to further develop our understanding of how post-identification feedback influences eyewitnesses. The author believes the most promising avenue for future research would be pursuing a better understanding of the conditions under which feedback does not impair the abilities of evaluators to discriminate between accurate and mistaken testimony.