The Psychology of Lineup Identifications1

Authors

  • Gary L Wells

    Corresponding author
    1. University of Alberta, Canada
      Requests for reprints should be sent to Dr. Gary Wells, Department of Psychology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, T6G 2E9.
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  • 1

    This research was supported by research grant number 410–81–0400 from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada to the author.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Dr. Gary Wells, Department of Psychology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, T6G 2E9.

Abstract

A review is made of issues and data on eyewitness identifications, and a relative-judgment conceptualization is proposed. It is argued that eyewitnesses are prone to choose the lineup member who most resembles the perpetrator relative to other lineup members as evidenced by studies that manipulated similarity of lineup members. The relative-judgment strategy is fallacious because of the unpredictable occurrence of target-absent lineups and is not corrected fully by instructions to eyewitnesses. An extension of the relative-judgment conceptualization proposes an inverse relationship between the goodness of witnesses' memories (quality and quantity of relevant information available in memory) and witnesses' tendencies to rely on relative judgments. This extended conceptualization was used to derive expectations regarding an experiment (N= 192 eyewitnesses) that used a blank lineup prior to presenting eyewitnesses with the actual lineup. The data indicated that a blank lineup can yield a diagnostic split of eyewitnesses; those who made no identification when presented with a blank lineup were less likely to make false identifications on the actual lineup than either the witnesses who identified someone from the blank lineup or the witnesses who were not presented with a blank lineup. The blank lineup did not produce a significant loss in accurate identifications. The practical implications of using blank lineups and the theoretical utility of the relative-judgment conceptualization are discussed.

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