Eyewitness researchers often advocate for video-recording eyewitnesses’ lineup identifications, as this preserves a record of what happened during the lineup procedure. But are there other consequences—either positive or negative—of video-recording eyewitnesses? Awarded with an NSF grant, the Department of Psychology’s Associate Professor, Dr. Stephen Charman, in collaboration with Dr. Amy Douglass from Bates College, examines this question.
The first studies examine (a) whether video-recording witnesses changes their identification behavior—for instance, whether witnesses are less likely to make an identification if they know they are being video-recorded—and (b) whether video-recording allows us to detect behavioral cues from witnesses that might be indicative of their accuracy (i.e., whether witnesses who make inaccurate identifications also give off behavioral signs of uncertainty).
The second studies examine a possible benefit of showing witnesses a video-recording of their identification decision. Drs. Charman and Douglass have a theoretical reason to believe that showing witnesses their own video-recorded identification decision might make them less susceptible to having their confidence artificially inflated by feedback from a lineup administrator (e.g., a statement along the lines of “you got the suspect”). That sort of confidence inflation is highly problematic, as it can make even inaccurate witnesses highly confident in their false identifications.
The final set of studies examine another potential advantage of videotaping witnesses; specifically, Drs. Charman and Douglass will examine whether showing mock jurors a videotape of an eyewitness’ lineup identification can help them decide whether that witness was accurate or not. In other words, if accurate witnesses act differently than inaccurate witnesses (which is assessed in the first studies), can we teach jurors what sorts of behavioral cues they should look for when assessing witnesses’ accuracy? They know that jurors tend to be strongly influenced by even inaccurate witnesses, so teaching them how to identify inaccurate witnesses should help them make better decisions regarding whether a defendant is guilty or not.