Evaluating the Claim That High Confidence Implies High Accuracy in Eyewitness Identification

Andrew M. Smith, Laura Smalarz, Ryan Ditchfield, Nydia T. Ayala

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Two provocative claims about eyewitness confidence have recently been advanced in the eyewitnessidentification literature: (a) suspect identifications made with high confidence are highly accurate and (b) high-confidence suspect-identification accuracy is unaffected by variations in memory strength. Several recent publications have reiterated these claims in spite of providing weak or no support. We present four criteria that can be used to evaluate the empirical support for these claims. Regarding the claim that high confidence implies high accuracy, it is necessary to consider whether (a) high-confidence suspect identifications are in fact highly accurate and (b) high-confidence suspect-identification accuracy is dependent on the assumption of a perfectly fair lineup. Results of a base-rate analysis show that lowering the threshold for the claim that high confidence implies high accuracy undermines the claim substantially. Likewise, relaxing the assumption of a perfectly fair lineup may also undermine the claim. In regard to the claim that high-confidence suspect-identification accuracy is unaffected by variations in memory strength, it is necessary to demonstrate that (a) the conditions under comparison actually differ in memory strength, and (b) there is evidence that high-confidence suspect-identification accuracy is equivalent across conditions. We conclude with discussion of whether laboratory experiments have the capacity to provide valid estimates of high-confidence suspect-identification accuracy in real cases. We believe laboratory experiments have the capacity to estimate high-confidence suspect identification accuracy at the time of an identification procedure, but due to a prominent selection bias, we are skeptical of their capacity to estimate high-confidence suspect-identification accuracy at trial.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)479-491
Number of pages13
JournalPsychology, Public Policy, and Law
Volume27
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 2021

Keywords

  • Confidence-accuracy
  • Eyewitness confidence
  • Eyewitness identification
  • Eyewitness memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law

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