Distance influences accuracy of eyewitness IDs

May 13, 2014, Springer
Distance influences accuracy of eyewitness IDs

Eyewitness accuracy declines steadily and quite measuredly as the distance increases. Additionally, a good deal of guess work or so-called "false alarms" also comes into play as the distance increases. These findings have implications for the trustworthiness of eyewitness accounts that are used to solve criminal cases. Research led by James Lampinen of the University of Arkansas in the US and published in Springer's journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review sheds light on the matter.

Eyewitness identification plays a crucial role in approximately 80,000 criminal cases per year in the United States. While other research has already examined the relationship between identification accuracy and distance, this study is the first to do so under carefully controlled outdoor conditions, and by using actual people. The researchers asked 195 college students to view 8 people who were presented to them at 6 different distances, ranging between 5 (4.6 meters) and 40 yards (36.6 meters). They were then shown 16 photographs: 8 of the targets they saw, and 8 photographs of other people that matched a description of the initial targets. Participants used an eight-point scale to indicate just how confident they were about having seen each individual before.

Similar to the findings of previous research, Lampinen's group observed a steady decrease of 0.55 percent per yard (91 cm) in correct identifications being made. This was further coupled with an increase in false alarms (at 0.44 percent per yard) as the distance between the witness and the target grew.

The research team made a new discovery in finding that the response bias* of witnesses grew increasingly liberal as distances grew greater. These results conform to the principles of Face-Space theory that there is a so-called "average" face around which clusters a multitude of faces that are similar in appearance, while dissimilar faces lie farther apart. According to facial averaging, the fine-grained details that are normally captured if faces are viewed close up are filtered out as distance increases. This in turn makes the faces more average-looking, and therefore makes them more similar in appearance.

"For smaller crimes such as burglary, robbery, non-sexual assault, or vandalism, DNA is rarely available at the crime scene and not typically appropriate to the case. Although penalties for such crimes are light compared to sexual crimes or murders, the future lives of those convicted could still be compromised if eyewitness accounts alone are taken into account," says Lampinen. He stresses the need for further research about the quality and accuracy of eyewitness accounts that are used for forensic purposes.

Explore further: Distance makes a difference in eyewitness identification

More information: Lampinen, J.M. et al (2014). Effects of Distance on Face Recognition: Implications for Eyewitness Identification, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review DOI: 10.3758/s13423-014-0641-2

Related Stories

Distance makes a difference in eyewitness identification

April 10, 2013
University of Adelaide researchers are studying the reliability of eyewitness identification testimony in criminal cases in the hopes of improving evidence from witnesses and leading to fairer trials.

Spotting a famous face in the crowd

May 5, 2014
People can only recognize two faces in a crowd at a time – even if the faces belong to famous people. So says Volker Thoma of the University of East London in the UK in an article which sheds light on people's ability to ...

Eyewitness testimony affected by judging suspect veracity

September 27, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Trying to determine if a suspect is lying hurts the witness' ability to remember details accurately, says new research from Ball State University.

Having to make quick decisions helps witnesses identify the bad guy in a lineup

August 28, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—Eyewitness identification evidence is often persuasive in the courtroom and yet current eyewitness identification tests often fail to pick the culprit. Even worse, these tests sometimes result in wrongfully ...

Understanding the science of eyewitness identifications

July 6, 2011
Mistaken eyewitness identification is a primary cause of wrongful convictions in the United States. This link between false identifications and false convictions has spurred a reform movement to change the way that police ...

Recommended for you

Short-course treatment for combat-related PTSD offers expedited path to recovery

January 23, 2018
Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be debilitating and standard treatment can take months, often leaving those affected unable to work or care for their families. But, a new study demonstrated that many ...

Priming can negate stressful aspects of negative sporting environments, study finds

January 23, 2018
The scene is ubiquitous in sports: A coach yells at players, creating an environment where winning is the sole focus and mistakes are punished. New research from the University of Kansas shows that when participants find ...

Social and emotional skills linked to better student learning

January 23, 2018
Students with well-developed and adaptive social and emotional behaviours are most likely to excel in school, according to UNSW researchers in educational psychology.

Study of learning and memory problems in OCD helps young people unlock potential at school

January 22, 2018
Adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have widespread learning and memory problems, according to research published today. The findings have already been used to assist adolescents with OCD obtain the help ...

People with prosthetic arms less affected by common illusion

January 22, 2018
People with prosthetic arms or hands do not experience the "size-weight illusion" as strongly as other people, new research shows.

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.