Forensic psychology
Forensic psychology

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Forensic psychology

8.2.1 Mystery man

In this course you have concentrated on adult eyewitnesses, but a great deal of research has looked at child witnesses.

Catriona Havard, from The Open University, looks at a new technique that could help obtain identification evidence from young children.

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CATRIONA HARVARD
So one of the current problems with eyewitness identification evidence is that witnesses often only identify about forty percent of the time, from a line-up and also up to another forty percent of the time they will identify somebody other than the suspect from the lineup. Now then we've got the added problem that sometimes the suspect that has been identified isn't actually the culprit of a crime. So it seems that people feel under pressure to choose somebody from a line-up. So the solution would be to try and find a technique which reduces the pressure on a witness when perhaps they don't actually recognise anybody from that line up. Children in particular seem unable to resist compulsion to choose somebody but then again older adults over the age of sixty seem to be much more likely to choose somebody from a line up. So we've got a group of witnesses, younger children and older adults that seem to be much more at risk of making false identifications. So one of the problems we want to solve is how can we make children and older adults' identification evidence more reliable.
With the eye witness research we use a technique where we show our witnesses a film of a staged crime. So it's often just a simple theft of somebody going into an office and stealing something and then we have a delay and then after a delay, we would show our witnesses a line-up. Now they'll either see a video line up that will contain the culprit that they've seen previously. And obviously we're interested in how accurate they are at correctly identifying that culprit. But some participants will see a line-up that doesn't contain the person that they've seen previously and here we're interested in, whether they choose somebody from the line-up and thereby make a false identification because they're choosing somebody they haven't actually seen.
So what we've done with our research is we've placed a silhouette in the line-up and we've called this silhouette the mystery man. So when they see a silhouette in a line up and the culprit isn't in the line-up this can really reduce the false identification rates because it gives them somebody to choose when they don't actually recognise anybody else.
Initially all the research was aimed with children because most of my background has been working with child witnesses. Children are thought to make these false identifications due to the task demands and this feeling that they have to give a positive response, whereas quite often the explanations for why older adults choose is thought to be related to misunderstanding the task 1 instructions. Older adults will often make more relative decisions and base their, for example, face recognition decisions on familiarity. So, they might just look at a video line-up and think 'well that person looks a little bit familiar, so it could be them'. Whereas younger adults would maybe make more of an absolute decision of 'well they look a bit familiar but I don't think that's the person from that film'. So we were really surprised that obviously using this silhouette could reduce the false choosing rate for older adults.
There has been some research over the years that have used different options within a line up to allow children to choose without making a false identification. So there have been line drawings of a mister nobody, there has been another silhouette which was used in a photo line-up and they called it a wild card. And these all had varying degrees of success, and I actually, there was one study in particular by Zajac and Karageorge where they used the silhouette in a photo array and they had such great results that I was actually slightly sceptical and thought I'm going to replicate this study but use UK methods of a video line up and was obviously quite surprised when actually it really worked.
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