The information gained from witnesses' responses to an initial "blank" lineup

Matthew Palmer, Neil Brewer, Nathan Weber

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    9 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Wells ("The psychology of lineup identifications," Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 1984, 14, 89-103) proposed that a blank lineup (an initial lineup of known-to-be-innocent foils) can be used to screen eyewitnesses; witnesses who chose from a blank lineup (initial choosers) were more likely to make an error on a second lineup that contained a suspect than were witnesses who rejected a blank lineup (initial nonchoosers). Recent technological advances (e.g., computer-administered lineups) may overcome many of the practical difficulties cited as a barrier to the use of blank lineups. Our research extended knowledge about the blank lineup procedure by investigating the underlying causes of the difference in identification performance between initial choosers and initial nonchoosers. Studies 1a and 1b (total, N = 303) demonstrated that initial choosers were more likely to reject a second lineup than initial nonchoosers and witnesses who did not view a blank lineup, implying that cognitive biases (e.g., confirmation bias and commitment effects) influenced initial choosers' identification decisions. In Study 2 (N = 200), responses on a forced-choice identification test provided evidence that initial choosers have, on average, poorer memories for the culprit than do initial nonchoosers. We also investigated the usefulness of blank lineups for interpreting identification evidence. Diagnosticity ratios suggested that suspect identifications made by initial nonchoosers (cf. initial choosers) should have a greater impact on estimates of the likely guilt of the suspect. Furthermore, for initial nonchoosers, higher confidence in blank lineup rejections was associated with higher diagnosticity for subsequent suspect identifications. These results have implications for policy to guide the collection and interpretation of identification evidence.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)439-447
    Number of pages9
    JournalLaw and Human Behavior
    Volume36
    Issue number5
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2012

    Keywords

    • blank lineup
    • confidence
    • confirmation bias
    • eyewitness identification
    • latency

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