25 Eyewitness Memory for People and Events

Forensic Psychology


  1. Gary L. Wells PhD1,
  2. Elizabeth F. Loftus PhD2

Published Online: 26 SEP 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9781118133880.hop211025

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

How to Cite

Wells, G. L. and Loftus, E. F. 2012. Eyewitness Memory for People and Events. Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition. 11:V:25.

Author Information

  1. 1

    Iowa State University, Department of Psychology, Ames, Iowa, USA

  2. 2

    University of California–Irvine, Department of Social Ecology, Irvine, California, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 26 SEP 2012


Although the criminal justice system relies heavily on accounts that people give from their memories, it has no articulated theory of memory. This chapter is a broad review of the science of eyewitness memory that covers not only eyewitness identification of criminal suspects but also memories for events. Misinformation effects, characteristics of true versus false memories, and the role of imagination in developing false memories are discussed. Furthermore, the problem of mistaken identification is discussed as evidenced both in the lab and in actual criminal cases. A system is described for classifying variables affecting eyewitness identification that involves three categorization factors, namely the chronology of the variable (e.g., event characteristics, post-event characteristics, lineup characteristics), the variable's system versus estimator status (controllable or not by the criminal justice system), and the variable's status as a general impairment versus suspect-bias variable. An actual case of mistaken identification is used to illustrate many points.


  • eyewitness testimony;
  • eyewitness identification;
  • lineups;
  • wrongful convictions;
  • false memory