The Mystery Man Can Help Reduce False Identification for Child Witnesses: Evidence from Video Line-ups


Catriona Havard, Faculty of Social Sciences, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK17 6AA, UK.



It is well established that children (as young as 5 years) can correctly identify a target from a target present (TP) line-up as accurately as adults; however, when shown a target absent (TA) line-up, children make more false identifications. In the present study, children aged 5–7 and 8–11 years viewed a film of a staged theft, then 1–2 days later were shown either a TP or TA video line-up. Half of the witnesses viewed line-ups that included a ‘mystery man’ (a black silhouette with a white question mark), which they could select if they did not recognise anyone from the line-up. When the ‘mystery man’ was present in the line-up, there were significantly fewer false identifications for the TA line-ups. This study shows that including a silhouette in a video line-up can help reduce false identifications for children as young as 5 years of age, without reducing correct identifications. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.