A Lay Perspective on the Accuracy of Eyewitness Testimony1


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    This research was partially supported by a University Research Grant from the University of Texas at El Paso. Preliminary results from this study were presented at the biennial meeting of the American Psychology-Law Society, Hilton Head, SC in March 1996. We would like to thank Lavearl Moore, Briana Robles, and Noah Kern for their assistance with data coding and scoring.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to John S. Shaw, III, Department of Psychology, Lafayette College, Easton, PA 18042. e-mail: shawj@lafayette.edu.


To understand more about what laypeople think they “know” about eyewitness testimony, 276 jury-eligible university students were asked to indicate what factors they believe affect the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. In contrast to the large proportion of eyewitness-memory research that concerns system variables, the lay respondents overwhelmingly generated factors related to estimator variables, while system-variable factors such as police questioning and identification procedures were rarely mentioned. Respondents also reported that their own common sense and everyday life experiences were their most important sources of information about the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. Not only do these results clarify the need for further research on the lay perspective of eyewitness testimony, but they also provide some insight into the way in which many jurors might approach cases involving eyewitness evidence.