In This Article Eyewitness Testimony

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • General Eyewitness Memory Errors
  • Types of Eyewitness Memory Errors
  • The Misinformation Effect
  • Co-Witnesses
  • False Memory
  • False Memories for Imagined Events
  • Comparing True and False Memories
  • Memory for Trauma
  • Emotion and Stress
  • Eyewitness Identification
  • Eyewitness Confidence
  • False Confessions
  • Deception and its Detection
  • Child Witnesses
  • Witness Characteristics
  • Earwitnesses
  • Extra-Laboratory Methods for Studying Eyewitnesses
  • Improving the Investigative Process
  • Implications for Policy

Criminology Eyewitness Testimony
by
Cara Laney, Elizabeth Loftus
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0086

Introduction

Research into eyewitness testimony involves the psychological study of how crime witnesses perceive events, remember those events, and then report them within legal procedures. Research in this field is undertaken by cognitive psychologists, social psychologists, and specialized forensic or legal psychologists. Witnessing a crime can be complicated, and it can have extensive and long-term implications for the witness and the suspected perpetrator(s), among others. Eyewitness testimony research addresses all aspects of this process—from how events are perceived, to what happens when witnesses talk to one another and law enforcement professionals about what they have seen and heard, to making an identification of the perpetrator, and to the courtroom itself. There are also additional complexities when witnesses are children or psychologically disabled, or when they hear rather than see the crime. Eyewitness testimony research also addresses the suspect side of things—from suspect interviews, including the detection of deception in those interviews, to false confessions and the resulting miscarriages of justice. Memory for eyewitnessed events is an area of particular interest. Eyewitnesses and victims of crime have been shown to demonstrate an impressive variety of memory errors, which can result in effects as substantial as the conviction of factually innocent individuals.

General Overviews

Recent books and articles about memory have added depth and breadth to a few longstanding texts on the subject of eyewitness testimony, including Loftus 1979. Toglia, et al. 2007 and Lindsay, et al. 2007 address a wide range of issues relating to memory for events and people, respectively. Schacter 2001 describes what the author calls the seven “sins” of memory, that is, broad types of memory errors that we all experience in our daily lives and that can be particularly problematic for eyewitnesses. McNally 2003 addresses emotional and traumatic memories—an area that is highly relevant for many types of crime witnessing. Wells and Olson 2003 provides a very thorough discussion of the process of eyewitness identifications.

  • Lindsay, R. C. L., David F. Ross, J. Don Read, and Michael P. Toglia, eds. 2007. The handbook of eyewitness psychology. Vol. 2, Memory for people. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    E-mail Citation »

    This edited volume addresses the latest research and theories of human memory for the other humans they encounter, particularly in the context of eyewitnessing crime.

  • Loftus, Elizabeth F. 1979. Eyewitness testimony. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    This foundational text covers the key areas of eyewitness testimony and the classic studies that underlie this area of research, in a highly accessible manner.

  • McNally, Richard. J. 2003. Remembering trauma. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    This book thoroughly discusses the human mind’s ability to process and remember traumatic events, as well as arguing against the concept of memory repression.

  • Schacter, Daniel. L. 2001. The seven sins of memory: How the mind forgets and remembers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

    E-mail Citation »

    This book discusses seven separate ways in which human memory can go wrong, as well as many of the processing shortcuts that lead to these errors and their positive functions.

  • Toglia, Michael P., J. Don Read, David F. Ross, and R. C. L. Lindsay, eds. 2007. The handbook of eyewitness psychology. Vol. 1, Memory for events. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    E-mail Citation »

    This edited volume addresses the latest research and theories of human memory for events, particularly eyewitnessed events.

  • Wells, Gary L., and Elizabeth Olson. 2003. Eyewitness testimony. Annual Review of Psychology 54:277–295.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.54.101601.145028E-mail Citation »

    A broad and deep summary of key areas of eyewitness identification research.

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