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How Accurate is Eyewitness Testimony? (Conspiracy Buffs Take Notice!)
Social Science and Research Council of Canada ^ | 1/14/98 | Elizabeth Brimacombe

Posted on 12/03/2001 9:11:58 PM PST by Theresa

In many criminal cases eyewitness testimony can be an extremely important part of the evidence which is considered. Police and juries are more likely to believe witnesses who identify someone in a lineup with a high degree of confidence than witnesses who say they are less sure. Unfortunately, how confident people are about making an identification doesn't necessarily reflect how accurate their identification is.

In fact, a witness’s degree of certainty is quite malleable and can easily become "inflated", according to SSHRC-funded research by psychologist Elizabeth Brimacombe.

She found that confidence levels can be influenced by external factors that have nothing to do with the witness's actual memories or perceptions of the event.

In her research, Brimacombe staged a theft for pairs of eyewitnesses, then separately asked each of them to identify the "thief" in a photo lineup. After making their identifications, witnesses who were then told that the other person had identified the same suspect, felt increased confidence in their own identification. Witnesses who were told their co-witness either identified someone else or made no identification expressed less confidence. Interestingly, when some witnesses were subsequently told they had been misinformed about the co-witness statements, their confidence levels did not return to their original level.

"People tend to persevere even if you change the information," said Brimacombe.

Telling subjects whether their identification was corroborated by fingerprint evidence had an even more pronounced effect on their degree of confidence. It went up emphatically when the fingerprints matched and plummeted when they didn’t. However, if the subjects were subsequently told the fingerprint information they were given was wrong, their confidence went back up to its original level.

In another experiment, subjects were shown videotaped "testimony" of witnesses who had identified a suspect from a photo lineup. Brimacombe found that eyewitnesses who believed that their co-witness's identification corroborated their own were perceived by those who viewed the videotapes to be more accurate, more persuasive, have had a better view and give better descriptions of the thief than the eyewitnesses who had been told their co-witness's identification differed from theirs. On this basis Brimacombe argues that the malleability of witness confidence has important implications for how judges and juries interpret an eyewitness’s testimony.

Brimacombe noted that an eyewitness’s confidence can also be inflated if the police officer conducting the lineup expresses satisfaction with the choice the eyewitness makes. "What if, immediately following an eyewitness's identification of someone from a lineup, someone says, 'You've got him! That sleazeball has been doing this stuff for months and now we've nailed him.' There is nothing to prohibit such behaviour by police, but it raises the question to simply ask the eyewitness how confident he or she is that he or she identified the right person."

Other factors in the pre-trial period that can inflate witness confidence include media coverage, pre-trial preparations and even just the fact that the person the eyewitness identified in the lineup is actually charged.

"Pre-trial publicity can be quite biased and people are ripe to be influenced," says Brimacombe. She also commented on another study that shows briefing witnesses about what questions to expect on the stand increases confidence. "Before they come to trial, they've retold that story quite a few times, embedding it in their memory," she said. Limiting the number of times they're asked to recount the story would be impractical, says Brimacombe. Instead she suggests making a record of eye witnesses' statements about their confidence immediately after they identify someone in a lineup. "This forces the eyewitness to base his or her confidence assessment on memory alone."

Brimacombe suggests that to prevent witness confidence from getting inflated the following measures be taken: have lineups conducted by police officers who do not know which person is the suspect; record the confidence level expressed by the witness when identification is first made and present that confidence statement at trial; and educate police, witnesses and juries about external factors that can affect eyewitness confidence and about the fact that confidence does not necessarily reflect accuracy.

"This doesn’t prevent police or attorneys from introducing confidence-altering information at a later time, but if the initial confidence assessment is recorded, then opposing counsel can ... raise questions as to why the eyewitness's confidence has increased in the meantime."


TOPICS: Miscellaneous; News/Current Events
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So, like I have been telling the conspiracy theorists on other threads....don't get a full head of steam about eyewitness testimony. It is not fool proof. So if some guy insists he saw something, the more he insists the more skeptical you should be.

For example the article in Newsmax about flight 587. An eyewitness was quoted....

"No tail fell off, not before the explosion. I swear to that," Lynch told the paper's Steve Dunleavy. The eyewitness said there was absolutely no doubt about what he saw. "

"Absolutely no doubt." Yeah, uh huh, sure. I imagine he's being sincere...but is he really right? Don't take it to the bank.

1 posted on 12/03/2001 9:11:58 PM PST by Theresa
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To: Theresa
"Brimacombe noted that an eyewitness’s confidence can also be inflated if the police officer conducting the lineup expresses satisfaction with the choice the eyewitness makes. "

I also expect that eyewitness confidence can be inflated if a REPORTER expresses satisfaction with the witnesses side of the story.

2 posted on 12/03/2001 9:14:13 PM PST by Theresa
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To: Theresa
good article
3 posted on 12/03/2001 9:21:31 PM PST by Free the USA
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To: Theresa
Theresa,
In case you didn't see it, you may want to search FR for Attitude Canneling and Brainwashing (written by RLK) for a really good read. The piece expands greatly on the article which you have posted here.
Regards,
LH
4 posted on 12/03/2001 9:23:10 PM PST by Lancey Howard
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To: RLK
fyi
5 posted on 12/03/2001 9:23:39 PM PST by Lancey Howard
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To: Lancey Howard
In case you didn't see it, you may want to search FR for Attitude Canneling....

Doh...!
That's "channeling", of course, not "canneling".
Thank you.

6 posted on 12/03/2001 9:25:48 PM PST by Lancey Howard
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To: Theresa
Elizabeth Loftus, at the University of Washington, has done a lot of research in this area.
7 posted on 12/03/2001 9:39:11 PM PST by Mitchell
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To: Mitchell
There is a differance from witnessess that are solicited and those that offer also.If I witness something ,that got my attention earlier,for instance a ufo sighting,I would be able to give better details .Now compare being in the vicinity,hearing a shot,and in looking up see a man with a gun turn and run.Now compare a bank holdup when the holdup is announced,and takes place over a time period of a minute or so,one will be more inclined with their beliefs.Eyewitness testimony all depends on the circumstanses.
8 posted on 12/03/2001 10:00:01 PM PST by eastforker
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To: Theresa
From what I understand it's one of the least reliable.
9 posted on 12/03/2001 10:03:28 PM PST by Valin
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To: Theresa
One unfortunate thing is, if a victim (say, of Rape) is presented with a lineup that DOESN'T have the actual rapist in the the lineup, they'll still usually pick out the one person in the lineup who looks most like the Rapist and will often be quite confident that they have picked the perpetrator.

This has been behind many of the recent cases where inmates were released because of DNA testing. If the real perp is in a lineup, overwhelmingly, the right person is picked..but any witness viewing any lineup that DOESN'T have the perp can lead to disaster.

Contributing to this is the well-documented race problem...."They all look alike" is considered a racist statement, but when people view people of other ethnicities or races, they have huge problems. It's been documented asians have difficulties telling whites and blacks apart, whites have trouble telling asians and blacks apart, and black Africans actually would have difficulty, say, telling swedes and Afghanis apart, though the differences are obvious to us. This is made worse when you have little contact with the race in question. Until I went to college, I would have not been able to tell Vietnamese from Chinese from Japanese from Cambodians...now I can, and all of those groups can tell each other from one another, for example.

If a white woman who has been raped by a black man views a lineup of police suspects picked up based on her description, but the real perp ISN'T in the lineup, there, tragically, is an extremely high chance she'll pick out the guy who looks most like the perp, and she'll very confidently point him out in a trial and say "He raped me."

10 posted on 12/03/2001 10:06:31 PM PST by John H K
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To: Lancey Howard
I hope your not disparaging canneling. There nothing in the world like 20-30 mins. of canneling first thing in the morning, I find it gets the day off on the right foot.
11 posted on 12/03/2001 10:08:46 PM PST by Valin
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To: eastforker
Agreed. Eyewitness testimony is valuable, but you need to judge the source and you also need to judge the consistency of the testimony with other evidence. Loftus over-emphasizes the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, because that's a major aspect of her research program; I believe she also testifies as an expert witness (usually for the defense) in court cases, called to impeach the credibility of eyewitness testimony.

I gave the reference to Loftus because she is probably the most well-known exponent of the eyewitnesses-are-unreliable viewpoint, so I thought it was relevant. I don't agree with an extreme position on this, although I try to approach all evidence with a healthy skepticism.

12 posted on 12/03/2001 10:09:22 PM PST by Mitchell
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To: eastforker
It's incredibly easy to "contaminate" people. If you are talking about a plane crash, and there has been extensive news coverage, or a witness has seen other witness testimony, or then you get a conspiracy-oriented guy asking "so did you see ______" (What the conspiracy guy wants to hear) that witness is hopelessly contaminated.
13 posted on 12/03/2001 10:10:48 PM PST by John H K
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To: Theresa; katze; Fred25; Silly; Shooter 2.5
Interesting post.
14 posted on 12/03/2001 10:15:48 PM PST by mlo
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To: Valin
I hope your not disparaging canneling

Wouldn't dream of it, no way.

15 posted on 12/03/2001 10:29:59 PM PST by Lancey Howard
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To: Lancey Howard
"Attitude Canneling and Brainwashing." I have not read the article yet but I think Patrick Knowlton, the guy who caused so much trouble in the Foster case, was manipulated by reporters Chris Ruddy and Ambrose Evans Prichard..the kings of conspiracy. I just barely remember this, but quite some time ago, I read a description by Knowlton of the men who supposedly intimidated him prior to his testimony before the grand jury. This guy remembered the color of hair, the color of suits, the kind of shoes they had on...of about 10 men who brushed up against him and "stared at him" on the street in order to intimidate him. Can't happen. Memory is not that way.

As the article states, "Before they come to trial, they've retold that story quite a few times, embedding it in their memory,"

Huh uh. Sounds just like Knowlton. No telling how many hours he spent with Ruddy and Prichard telling his story.

16 posted on 12/03/2001 10:37:44 PM PST by Theresa
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To: Theresa
"Pre-trial publicity can be quite biased and people are ripe to be influenced,"

-------------------------

Most trials are not conducted in the courtroom, but on the front steps in front of the media. Beyond that, I doubt what most people say.

17 posted on 12/03/2001 10:50:09 PM PST by RLK
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To: John H K
"If you are talking about a plane crash, and there has been extensive news coverage, or a witness has seen other witness testimony, or then you get a conspiracy-oriented guy asking "so did you see ______" (What the conspiracy guy wants to hear) that witness is hopelessly contaminated."

I agree. And Newsmax is run by a consipiracy oriented guy. Chris Ruddy. That's why I don't have much trust in that outfit.

18 posted on 12/03/2001 10:53:00 PM PST by Theresa
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To: Lancey Howard
Misperception can be all over the map under social pressure. Another facer pertaining to law was judgements are highly influenced by physical attractiveness of witnesses and defendents. It's very hard to convict a beautiful woman dor anything. Women tend to draw two to four years lighter sentences than men.
19 posted on 12/03/2001 10:55:55 PM PST by RLK
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To: RLK
"Most trials are not conducted in the courtroom, but on the front steps in front of the media. "

Well that is true. And it is the defense lawyers who do it because the prosecution cannot try the case in public. So defense lawyers know how to play the media. I think research in the field of eyewitness testimony is showing more than ever how frought with difficulty our trail system is.

I read a novel called The Truth Machine. The premise was that a genius Bill Gates type invented a machine that was 100% accurate in truth detection. The affect on society was astounding and far reaching. It changed everything. Good book. I recommend it.

20 posted on 12/03/2001 11:01:41 PM PST by Theresa
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To: mlo
I'm sure this has more to do with the testimonies of Flights 800 and 587 than is has to do with the JFK thread. I have always considered the JFK assassination as an easy read. All of the evidence is there if someone wants it. There is no unanswered questions that weren't already answered after 38 years.

What I would really like to know is why do people deliberately lie about incidences. What makes a person create a book or web site and knowingly put out false information such as the doctor who claimed that he was on the emergency room team. I was only a matter of days that they had the real doctors on talk shows explaining what a liar he was. Why on earth would a doctor ruin his reputation when he should have known that there were dozens of reports and witnesses still around that would tell the real story.

21 posted on 12/04/2001 5:22:58 AM PST by Shooter 2.5
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To: Shooter 2.5
What I would really like to know is why do people deliberately lie about incidences. What makes a person create a book or web site and knowingly put out false information such as the doctor who claimed that he was on the emergency room team.

Some people have absolutly no life(and often for a very good reason). Or, I'm sure you know people who seem to think that the only way they can build themselves up is to tear someone else down.

22 posted on 12/04/2001 6:21:50 AM PST by Valin
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To: eastforker
Sorry but study after study says the only type of eyewitness testimony that has a good chance of accuracy is stuff the witnesses write down without having been asked any question. Any kind of question, no matter how seemingly innocuous runs the risk of changing the memories of the witnesses. In the 70s they did a study that was famous for a while and my psych 101 class did a mini-version of it. In this experiment we watched a video of an intersect just prior to and through a hit and run accident. Real time no slow mo, just like a person standing at that corner would see it. Then we were handed a paper with 5 questions on it about the accident. Only one sticks out in my mind but it sticks out because of how telling it was. The question was "did the pickup in the accident have a gun rack?". One person out of the 30 odd in my class (no not me) gave the correct answer: there was no pickup in the accident or even on screen during the video. 29 people, on reading that question had their memories changed (some insisted when we reviewed the video to check our answers that it was a different video) by one word in one question. And notice I used a very specific phrase that you memories change, they don't get skewed or led astray they actually change, what you remember before that one word goes into your brain is different than what you remember after and unless somebody shows you the video proof (which you might not believe, as demonstrated by my classmates) you'll never know.
23 posted on 12/04/2001 6:48:15 AM PST by discostu
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