The credibility of eyewitness testimony. Regarding the identification of a perpetrator

Term Paper, 2014
10 Pages, Grade: 1,3
S H (Author)




Background information



Reasons for misidentifications




The credibility of eyewitness testimony plays an important role when it comes to investigations. Eyewitness testimonies are of great importance for investigations and often are the main reason for suspects getting accused (Loftus, 1979). Wrong statements by eyewitnesses can have fatal consequences for an innocent person. A conviction of an innocent person is an unbelievable incision in life. Even if the misidentified target does not get convicted, a charge can evoke emotional problems as well as bad reputation (Yarmey et al., 1996). These facts show the great importance of the reliability of eyewitnesses in our society. But according to Rademacher (2012) the credibility of eyewitness testimony is overestimated although it is of such a great importance.

The foundation of this elaboration is the hypothesis that says that eyewitnesses often make mistakes when it comes to a culprit´s identification. Initially, background information regarding the perception and identification of a person are constituted. Afterwards, the experiment Matching faces to photographs with its implementation and results is examined to prove the thesis. Also, possible reasons for people´s misidentifications are given from which partly result suggestions for improvements for real-life situations. Finally, the results of this elaboration are considered by answering the main thesis and answering reasons for the above mentioned facts.

Background information

Face recognition takes place in the temporal lobe of the human brain and its evolutionary reason is the advantage of recognizing quickly if a person is a friend or an enemy (Sporer, 1992). On the one hand it is proved that remembering and identifying well-known faces comes naturally to people, even if one has not seen the person for years. But on the other hand it is not as easy to identify faces of people which one has only seen once (Davies & Ellis & Shepherd, 1981). Eyewitnesses usually only have one chance to see a culprit. Thus, identifying them does not come naturally to eyewitnesses. According to Clifford & Bull (1978), people are fixated on particular parts of the human face when looking at them. Therefore, they concentrate on the upper half of a face. Most attention is paid on the eyes (62 %), followed by the hairline, the eyebrows, the facial contour and the lips. Chin and nose get the least attention. Thus, the facial attributes that are easier to remember can be identified with a greater probability (Davies et al., 1971). Besides, some faces are easier to remember than others. For example, a women’s beautiful / friendly / unique face is easier remembered than a face with opposite attributes. In addition, a men´s ugly / unique face is remembered easiest. Also, all faces that are generally considered as being average are remembered worst (Clifford & Bull, 1978).


The survey Matching faces to photographs (Megreya & Burton, 2008) has examined the reliability of eyewitness testimony by measuring the task of matching a static, live person to a photograph. In the following, the experiment is described to prove the thesis that says that eyewitnesses often make mistakes when identifying the perpetrator.

92 students (56 female and 36 male) of Egypt´s Menoufia University participated. The students were divided into four groups of 23 people. For two of the groups, the target in the role of a culprit was seen as a static video grab on a screen. For the other two groups, the target was seen live. He stood in front of the classroom with a neutral facial expression. The participants were given 30 seconds to memorize the target´s face. Afterwards, a range of 10 photographs was presented on the screen. In 50 % of the cases, the just seen culprit was present and in 50 % he was absent in the range of photographs. In the target present version, the participant had to identify the target´s face in one of the photographs. In the target absent version, the participant had to recognize that the target´s face was not one of the options of the photographs. This case is similar to real-life cases when the police has different suspects bot none of them is the perpetrator. The mentioned process was repeated 36 times. Photographs of 230 targets were used. Every photograph was presented equally often in random order to the participants. The high resolution photographs were black and white and the face on it was shown frontally with a neutral facial expression. None of the participants were visually restricted or disabled. The experiment was taking part in a classroom of the university. The survey´s method of an identification of a perpetrator on the basis of pictures and lineups is comparable to methods used by the police. This is especially important for the relevance of the results of the study.


Megreya and Burtons (2008) results show no general differences between the groups which had seen the target live or on the screen as a static image. It is to be emphasized that the participants´ abilities to identify a perpetrator when matching a face to a photograph vary to a great extent. For example, one participant in a target present version has matched 5 % of the photographs correctly. Another participant on the other hand has matched 72 % of the photographs correctly. In the target absent version, the correctness varied between 44 % and 94 %. In addition, the survey Matching faces to photographs also demonstrates the differences between an identification with the perpetrator being absent and an identification with a perpetrator being present. When matching a face to a photograph with four different options to match and the target being absent from the options, the participants have to recognize that none of the options match the photograph. This version was in 80 % of the cases solved correctly. The other version of matching a face to a photograph with the target being present in the options showed correctness in 60 % of the cases. Thus, it is to be questioned why the number goes down when the participants actually have the correct option in the pile. This observation requires further exploration. For an identification task in real life, three out of 18 people would have been misidentified in a target present situation. The problem that eyewitnesses often identify suspects wrongly as being the perpetrator is underestimated globally (Rademacher, 2012).


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The credibility of eyewitness testimony. Regarding the identification of a perpetrator
University of Applied Sciences Osnabrück
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S H (Author), 2014, The credibility of eyewitness testimony. Regarding the identification of a perpetrator, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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