Active exploration of faces in police lineups increases discrimination accuracy

Heather Flowe, Melissa Colloff, Harriet M.J. Smith, Travis Seale-Carlisle, James Rockey, M Pradhan

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Eyewitness identifications play a key role in the justice system, but eyewitnesses make errors, often with profound consequences. Errors are more likely when the witness is of a different race to the suspect, due to a phenomenon called the Own Race Bias (ORB). ORB is characterized as an encoding-based deficit, but has been predominantly tested using static photographs of people facing the camera. We used findings from basic science and innovative technologies to develop and test whether a novel interactive lineup procedure, wherein witnesses can rotate and dynamically view the lineup faces from different angles, improves witness discrimination accuracy and attenuates the ORB, compared to the most widely used procedure in laboratories and police forces around the world—the static frontal-pose photo lineup. No novel procedure has previously been shown to improve witness discrimination accuracy. In Experiment 1, participants (N=220) identified own-race or other-race culprits from sequentially presented interactive lineups or static frontal-pose photo lineups. In Experiment 2, participants (N=8,507) identified own-race or other-race culprits from interactive lineups that were either presented sequentially, simultaneously wherein the faces could be moved independently, or simultaneously wherein the faces moved jointly into the same angle. Interactive lineups enhanced witnesses’ discriminability compared to static lineups, especially when they were presented simultaneously, for both own-race and other-race identifications. Our findings suggest that ORB is an encoding-based phenomenon, and exemplify how basic science can be used to address the important applied policy issue on how best to conduct a police lineup and reduce eyewitness errors.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages57
JournalAmerican Psychologist
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jul 2020


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