We examined how giving eyewitnesses a weak recognition experience impacts their identification decisions. In two experiments we forced a weak recognition experience for lineups by impairing either encoding or retrieval conditions. In Experiment 1 (N = 245), undergraduate participants were randomly assigned to watch either a clear or a degraded culprit video and then viewed either a culprit-present or culprit-removed lineup identification procedure. In Experiment 2 (N = 227), all participants watched the same clear culprit video but were then randomly assigned to either view a clear or noise- degraded lineup procedure. Half of the participants viewed a culprit-present lineup procedure and the remaining participants viewed a culprit-removed lineup procedure. Not surprisingly degrading either encoding or retrieval conditions led to a sharp drop in culprit identifications. Critically, and as predicted, degrading either encoding or retrieval conditions also led to a sharp increase in the identification of innocent persons. These results suggest that when a lineup procedure gives a witness a weak match-to-memory experience, the witness will lower her criterion for making an affirmative identification decision. This pattern of results is troubling because it suggests that witnesses who encounter lineups that do not include the culprit might have a tendency to use a lower criterion for identification than do witnesses who encounter lineups that actually include the culprit.
Smith, Andrew M.; Wilford, Miko M.; Quigley-McBride, Adele; and Wells, Gary L., "Mistaken Eyewitness Identification Rates Increase When Either Witnessing or Testing Conditions get Worse" (2019). Psychology Publications. 64.