The Cross-Race Effect and Eyewitness Identification: How to Improve Recognition and Reduce Decision Errors in Eyewitness Situations


  • Preparation of this manuscript was supported by National Science Foundation grant BCS-0951463.

John Paul Wilson (256-490-5726) or Kurt Hugenberg (513-529-2413), Department of Psychology, Miami University, Oxford, OH 45056 [e-mail: or].


The Cross-Race Effect (CRE), whereby same-race faces are recognized more accurately than cross-race faces, is a well-replicated psychological phenomenon with clear social consequences. The area in which its influence is most visible is that of eyewitness misidentification. Since the advent of DNA testing, it has been revealed that scores of people have been wrongly imprisoned for crimes that they did not commit, and cross-race eyewitness misidentifications are a determining factor in a large percentage of these convictions. This article reviews existing perspectives on the causes of the CRE, including new work on the social cognitive underpinnings of the bias. Next, we make recommendations aimed at reducing the cross-race effect in eyewitness identification, both at the point of witnessing the crime and during the witness lineup. The goal of this work is to encourage policymakers to implement suggestions based on the current understanding of the causes and moderators of the CRE.