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Crime Type, Perceived Stereotypicality, and Memory Biases: A Contextual Model of Eyewitness Identification



The fallibility of eyewitness identifications is well documented. Nevertheless, research has yet to assess the possibility that the type of crime committed systematically influences who eyewitnesses mistakenly identify. We address this oversight by presenting a contextual model of eyewitness identification (CMEI). The CMEI asserts that discrete crimes automatically activate distinct stereotypes about a perpetrator's appearance. Depending on the congruence between these stereotypes and the perpetrator's actual appearance, eyewitnesses will remember the perpetrator as appearing more (or less) representative of his or her group (i.e., higher or lower on perceived stereotypicality). Estimator and system variables are posited to affect identifications at different stages of the identification process. The literatures on stereotype activation, perceived stereotypicality, and stereotype-consistent memory biases are reviewed to support the CMEI. Our conceptual integration provides a model of eyewitness identification that explains when mistaken identifications are likely to occur and who they are likely to affect. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.