Cowitness Identification Speed Affects Choices From Target-Absent Photospreads

Amy Bradfield Douglass, Carmen A. Lucas, Neil Brewer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Three studies examined the influence of a witness's identification speed on the identification decision of another witness. Hypotheses: Based on research documenting cowitness effects we expected cowitness speed to affect identification decisions from target-absent photospreads. Without prior research testing the effects of cowitness speed, we did not have a specific prediction regarding how fast (vs. slow) cowitness identification decisions would affect participant-witnesses' identification rates in Study 1. Based on the results from Study 1, in Study 2 we predicted that fast (vs. slow) cowitness decisions would increase choices from target-absent photospreads when the cowitness was known to have made a positive identification. In Study 3, cowitnesses rejected the photospread. Based on the previous studies, we hypothesized that fast (vs. slow) cowitness decisions would decrease choices from target-absent photospreads. However, because a photospread rejection is qualitatively different from an identification, this prediction was tentative. Method: In all three studies, participants watched one of 2 stimulus videos with a confederate cowitness. After the video, the confederate made a fast (10 s) or slow (4 min) identification. Participants then attempted an identification from a target-absent photospread. In Study 1 (N = 101), the confederate's decision from the photospread was ambiguous. In Study 2 (N = 200) the confederate announced making a positive identification. In Study 3 (N = 151) the confederate cowitness rejected the photospread. Results: In all 3 studies, participants paired with a fast cowitness made more choices from the target-absent photospread than did participants paired with a slow cowitness. Conclusions: Fast cowitness identifications increased choices from the target-absent photospread regardless of whether a cowitness's decision was ambiguous (Study 1), whether they made an identification (Study 2), or rejected the photospread (Study 3). Given the effects of cowitness speed on identification decisions, it might be advisable to standardize the duration of identification procedures and inform witnesses of this standardization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)474-484
Number of pages11
JournalLaw and Human Behavior
Issue number6
Early online date6 Aug 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Aug 2020


  • Cowitness influence
  • Eyewitness identification
  • Identification accuracy

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