- Blessed Are Those Who Have Not Seen and yet Believe | Stand to Reason
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- The Relationship Between Eyewitness Confidence and Identification Accuracy: A New Synthesis
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It became clear that the predominate cause was inaccurate eyewitness identification. It was a very comprehensive review of studies that defined the nature of the problem and suggested solutions that can be employed to mitigate the impact. The report made it clear that this is a very complex problem, rooted in human psychology, which impacted police and courtroom practices. Following the NAS report, there have been a number of published articles further addressing the psychological underpinnings of the problem, police practices, and possible judicial solutions.
In Professor Keith A. He also addressed the mechanisms some state judiciaries have used to mitigate the problem. It should be noted that the most critical reforms in the area of eyewitness identification will need to come from the law-enforcement community. However, the court plays an important role as the gatekeeper of evidence that can be used against a defendant.
In using lineups for purposes of eyewitness identification, the literature recommends the following reforms, as defined by Professor Findley:. It is suggested that only one suspect be included in a lineup, even if there are multiple suspects. Lineups are designed to be a test of memory, and including more than one suspect increases the chance that a defendant is selected by mere guesswork.
This recommendation is equally applicable to paper lineups, in which the witness is shown photographs, and more traditional lineups of actual people. The actual suspect should not stand out due to some physical characteristic from the fillers. These factors influence reports of any sensory experience. Uncertainty here refers to the probabilistic nature of sensory signal detection in the presence of noise.
Vision is plagued by noise from many natural sources, some associated with the structure of the visual environment e. If uncertainty can be likened to a breakdown of accurate sensory communication, bias is the patch.
Blessed Are Those Who Have Not Seen and yet Believe | Stand to Reason
Bias fills in the blanks when visual information is uncertain, fills them in with what we believe is likely to be out there based on prior experience. Formally, this characterizes vision as a problem of statistical inference, in which the observer infers properties of the world from data in the form of retinal images. For example, prior knowledge that bank robbers carry guns enhances the probability that the bank robber will be perceived with gun in hand, even when the sensory evidence is equivocal.
Because these biases are rooted in statistical regularities of our sensory world, they are commonly on target and grant us the perceptual certainty needed for survival in a noisy visual environment. But there is a catch: This same system that grants certainty of perceptual experience in the face of noise is also capable of filling in the blanks with the wrong information.
The coat rack may be experienced as an intruder in the hall, the shrubbery is mistaken for a police car, or the woman at the rendezvous point is wrongly identified as a friend. Similarly, uncertainty and bias can yield a situation in which information sensed by an eyewitness is of poor quality but the witness nonetheless perceives what he or she expects to see.
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An eyewitness may be wrong for the reasons described above, but a witness who testifies in court with confidence is generally very compelling to triers of fact Confidence is a feeling, which reflects the coherence of the information and the cognitive ease of processing it. Declarations of high confidence mainly tell you that an individual has constructed a coherent story in his mind, not necessarily that the story is true.
Coherence is the key here; observers become confident when multiple pieces of sensory evidence point to the same conclusion, even when the individual pieces are themselves sparse and unreliable. This is, of course, exactly what magicians aim for; they create conditions of uncertainty and introduce bias.
But in the real world, similarly unreliable evidence is rarely questioned if it forms part of a coherent picture. This is true of eyewitness reports and it is a pervasive feature in many domains of human decision making, such as criminal investigation, medical diagnosis, strategic warfare, selecting a restaurant, or shopping for a new automobile. But if the goal is to provide information sufficient for accurate visual identification or resolution of a dispute about things that actually happened, uncertainty, bias, and overconfidence create conditions prone to failure. The information perceived by an eyewitness is stored in memory, where it is made available for retrieval when called upon to identify a suspect.
This type of memory is declarative, in that it consists of consciously accessible semantic and episodic content: the things perceived, their meaning, and sequence over time It is mediated by brain systems different from those involved in visual perception and operates with different dynamics, but its products are similarly influenced by uncertainty, bias, and confidence. Declarative memories are conceptualized as involving three core processes—encoding, storage, and retrieval—which refer, respectively, to the placement of items in memory, maintenance therein, and subsequent access to the stored information These are not passive, static processes that record, retain, and divulge their contents in an informational vacuum, unaffected by outside influences.
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The contents cannot be treated as a veridical permanent record, like photographs stored in a safe. Without awareness, we regularly encode information in a prejudiced manner and later forget, reconstruct, update, and distort the things we believe to be true. Uncertain memories of witnessed events may thus be biased readily by information subsequently gathered from numerous sources, including law enforcement, counsel, family, friends, and the press, all of which can reduce the likelihood that an eyewitness correctly identifies the culprit.
In addition, the coherence of evidence from these multiple sources increases confidence in that remembered, even though the individual sources may themselves be unreliable and are unlikely to be independent purveyors of information. Erika punched her assailant repeatedly in the face with her CD player, eventually broke free, and was rescued by a passerby. There were two significant witnesses to this crime: Erika, of course, and a man by the name of Angel Rivera, who happened to be driving by. Both witnesses described the assailant as white, brown hair, mids, about 5 feet, 10 inches, medium build, and wearing a goatee.
After doggedly following leads from the eyewitness accounts, the San Diego County Sheriff detained a y-old construction worker named Uriah Courtney and presented him to the witnesses in a photo lineup Fig. Both witnesses picked Courtney.
In , Uriah Courtney was found guilty by a San Diego jury and sentenced to life in prison. When Courtney was permitted to address the court, he maintained that he could not express remorse for a crime he did not commit. Uriah Frank Courtney , considered as a problem of statistical inference.
The Relationship Between Eyewitness Confidence and Identification Accuracy: A New Synthesis
Courtney is shown at Lower Left ; the other five photos are of people known to be innocent i. Two eyewitnesses described Courtney as possessing a goatee, which means that they would have been biased to pick a lineup participant with that feature.
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This lineup configuration, in conjunction with the goatee prior, would naturally have led to a high likelihood of picking Courtney. Image courtesy of People's exhibit 10 of ref. Analysis of samples conducted during the original investigation had proved inconclusive. The later analysis found that not only was the evidence incompatible with Courtney, but the DNA instead matched a former convict living not far from the crime scene. Two eyewitnesses confidently testified before the San Diego Superior Court that Uriah Courtney was the perpetrator of a monstrous crime.
These witnesses maintained with certainty that they had seen this very person, that they remembered him accurately and could identify him from a single photograph. Knowing well the consequences for the accused, and discounting any possibility of error, Erika pleaded to the Court for retribution. How could the eyewitnesses have been so wrong and yet so confident in their convictions? We can answer this question by considering features of the case that could easily have led to uncertainty, bias, and overconfidence.
The viewing conditions during the crime were far from ideal, inevitably leading to uncertainty in efforts to perceive and remember the face of the assailant. The events transpired quickly, meaning that the witnesses had only a brief period to gather visual information. The events occurred in and adjacent to a dark tunnel formed by a freeway overpass, meaning that there was limited light available to see.
The actors were moving erratically, meaning that it would have been difficult to scrutinize facial features. In attack, the assailant approached his victim from behind. In retreat, the assailant took measures to block visibility of his face using the brim of his hat, meaning that the witnesses had only partial information some of the time. In addition, the witnesses—particularly Erika—confronted events that would be expected to elicit strong emotional arousal and poorly focused attention. These situational and cognitive factors introduce noise to the process of acquiring accurate visual information, particularly about an unfamiliar face, meaning that any decision that these witnesses would have made based on visual information could easily have been wrong.
Visual uncertainty breeds bias, as observers turn in earnest to prior experiences or predispositions to resolve perceptual ambiguities. In the Courtney case one can distinguish at least three sources of bias present at the lineup identification stage that could have influenced the outcome.
Most deliberate and egregious among these is the manner in which the lineup was constructed. A typical lineup consists of a photo of the suspect presented together with five photos of people known to be innocent, called fillers. Fillers are chosen uniquely for each case and drawn, ideally, from a diverse database. This counsel—fillers should be similar to the suspect but not too much so—is clearly open to interpretation and often applied by different agents in different ways. Consider the Courtney lineup shown in Fig.
Erika reported that her assailant possessed a goatee, which means that in the face of uncertainty at the identification stage she would have relied on this prior information to make a decision. A second source of potential bias in the Courtney identification stems from the fact that the lineup administrator was not blind to the status of the lineup participants. This opens the possibility that the administrator may have covertly conveyed information—through eye movements, body posture, facial expressions, verbal responses—that could have been unconsciously received by a witness bedeviled by uncertainty, and thus influenced judgments of identity.
The result is a visual predisposition or bias for details of variation among faces of the commonly experienced race, whereas faces of other races are perceived more categorically. As for other estimator variables 45 , the effect of the own-race bias on eyewitness performance can be particularly pronounced under conditions of noise and uncertainty One of the eyewitnesses in the Courtney case, Angel Rivera, was Latino and the six lineup participants were non-Latino Caucasian. Latinos are ethnically distinct but can be of the same race as non-Latino Caucasians.
The own-race bias applies nonetheless because of average differences in facial appearance between the two groups.
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The possibility thus exists that Rivera had an experience-dependent predisposition that could have severely limited his ability to perceive, memorize, recall, and discriminate among faces similar to that of the culprit. Finally, the Courtney case highlights the problem of confidence. Although their testimony was likely flawed because of uncertainty and bias, both witnesses addressed the court with great confidence in their choices 41 :.
When asked to testify, the implicit task of an eyewitness is to tell a coherent story. Witnesses commonly do so by knitting together multiple pieces of information, including their own sensory experiences during the crime, the lineup identification experience, and reports of others.