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Your Name(s)/Homeroom Number
Mr. Contreras

Date
Life Science

Testing the Accuracy of Eyewitness Testimony


Topic Background
Eyewitness testimony is a tool use by law enforcement and the courts to identify people
who have committed a crime. However, recent studies have shown that the reliability of an
eyewitnesss testimony relies heavily on distance and police influence. Police use eyewitness
testimony in 80, 000 cases per year, however, many studies are showing that the accuracy of
those testimonies greatly diminish when you factor in the distance by which the eyewitness
witnessed the alleged crime, police influence over lineups, memory lapses over time of what they
witnessed and the time they testify in a court of law, and the hesitance by witnesses to confirm
their statements.
A more recent phenomenon that is overturning convictions partially or entirely reliant upon
eyewitness testimonies is DNA evidence. Of the 130 convictions that have been reversed because
DNA evidence proved they did not commit the crime, 78% relied heavily on eyewitness
testimony. Scientists have begun studying ways to improve the use and reliability of eyewitness
testimony, such as double-blind lineups, lineup with people of similar composition, clearer and
unbiased instructions during lineups, confidence statements by witnesses, and recordings.

Experiment Abstract
In the following experiment we will be investigating the reliability of eyewitness
testimony by asking my fellow classmates to remember certain things from a scenario I will
secretively play out in front of them. The experiment will last roughly 10 minutes with each
student and does not have any prerequisites for participation. There is also no risk of sickness or
injury while participating. Students who participate in the trial will receive a candy of their
choice as gratitude for volunteering.
Experiment Objective
The purpose of this project is to determine whether eyewitness reports are reliable
enough to be used as substantial evidence in criminal convictions, by examining whether gender,
distance from subject, and delay in recollection time affect the accuracy of reporting.
Experiment Materials

sample group to serve as witnesses

a person unfamiliar to the sample group to act out scenario

surveys

envelopes

Experiment Procedures

A. Problem: Is eye witness testimony reliable?


B. Solution: Create an investigation to test how reliable eye witness testimony is by
providing participants a scenario with an individual they do not know and provide them a
survey with questions that seek to see if participants can identify the culprit.
C. Procedure:
1. Arrange to have a person (who is unfamiliar to the class) knock on the door, enter the
class, interact with the teacher briefly, and then leave. You can think of your own
scenarios, but some possible ideas are:
a. flower delivery,
b. asking a question,
c. express package delivery.
2. The survey should probe how accurately the students remember the event. Here are some
ideas for questions to get you started (assuming a delivery person scenario):
a. At what time did the delivery person enter the room?
b. How long was the delivery person in the room?
c. What did the delivery person bring?
d. Did the delivery person leave anything behind?
e. Did the delivery person take anything from the room?
f. What did the delivery person say to the teacher?

g. Please describe the delivery person, including as much of the following


information as you can accurately remember: height, weight, skin color, hair
color, eye color, clothing, distinguishing features.
h. Note: the students should also fill out the time and date that the survey was
completed, and the surveys should be anonymous.
3. After the visitor leaves, give the students in the class sealed envelopes containing the
survey. Half of the envelopes (and surveys) should be marked "complete now" and half
should be marked "complete tomorrow."
4. Have the participants return the completed surveys to the researcher.
D. If you record the event, use your recording to double-check your own recall of the event
before grading the surveys!
For each component of the description, analyze the percentage of correct responses.
Which components of the description were correctly observed most often? Which were
correctly observed least often? Does the "average" response provide an accurate
description of the subject?
Participants immediately given 8-question eyewitness survey
8 questions
right
7 questions
right
6 questions
right
5 questions
right

4 questions
right
3 questions
right
2 questions
right
1 question
right
Control
participant
1

Control
participant
2

Control
participant
3

Control
participant
4

Control
participant
5

Participants given 8-question eyewitness testimony survey 1 day later


8 questions
right
7 questions
right
6 questions
right
5 questions
right
4 questions
right
3 questions
right
2 questions
right
1 question
right
Treatment
participant
1

Treatment
participant
2

Treatment
participant
3

Treatment
participant
4

Treatment
participant
5

Result Analysis
The following information discusses the two graphs above. The first graph was the
control group. This group was given the eyewitness survey immediately after the gentleman left
the room. The 8 questions they received are stated above. The graph shows how many of those

questions they got right. The results show that collectively the participants were able remember
83% of the unfamiliar mans characteristics.
The second graph was the treatment group. This group was given the eyewitness survey
just one day after witnessing the unfamiliar gentleman enter the room. They were given the same
questions as the control group. Their graph also shows how many of those questions they got
right. The results show that collectively the participants were only able to remember 45% of the
unfamiliar mans characteristics.
Conclusion and Next Steps
Given the results of the test, I conclude that the more time goes by between when a
person witnesses something or someone the more they forget about that thing or person. I should
also note that my experiment did not factor in the distance between the witness and what they
had witnessed. Some next steps I would take is breaking down the data I collected to see which
questions the participants got wrong the most, which could tell me which characteristic about the
unfamiliar man was hardest for the participants to remember. I would also create a new
experiment to measure the effect distance has on an eyewitness testimony.
Citations
Eyewitness Misidentification. Retrieved October 12, 2015
from The Innocence Project Web site:
http://www.innocenceproject.org/causes-wrongful-conviction/eyewitnessmisidentification#overview
National Academy of Sciences (2014, October 2). New report urges
caution in handling eyewitness identifications. Retrieved
October 12, 2015 from Web site:
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-10/naos-nru100214.php

Association for Psychological Science (2012, August 28). Having to


make quick decisions helps witnesses identify the bad guy in a
lineup. Retrieved October 12, 2015 from Web site:
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-08/afps-htm082812.php
Springer (2014, May 13). Distance influences accuracy of eyewitness
IDs. Retrieved October 12, 2015 from Web site:
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-05/s-dia051314.php

American Psychological Association (2006, April). How reliable is


eyewitness testimony?. Retrieved October 12, 2015 from Web
site: http://www.apa.org/monitor/apr06/eyewitness.aspx