Yarmey 2004- eyewitness testimony

A field study by Yarmey in 2004 on the eyewitness testimony and identification 

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A field experiment on eyewitness recall and photo identification
Compared with the amount of laboratory research into eyewitness testimony there is even less research conducted
in the field. Yarmey set out to test eye witness recall and ability to identify a target person from a photographic
line-up in a field experiment.
A sample of 590 men and women was selected by opportunity in public places. Each was approached by a female
target who asked either for directions or for help in finding a lost piece of jewellery. Two minutes later the
participant was approached by a female researcher and asked to participate in a study about person perception and
memory. They were given a 16 question recall test that included questions about the physical characteristics and
clothing of the female target. Participants were then given a set of six photographs, showing women similar to the
female target, and asked to identify her. The photographs were randomly presented one at a time and participants
were informed the female may or may not be included in the set. The participants were thoroughly debriefed after
the experiment.
This standard procedure was followed with all participants, but there were changes to the procedure to test
different variables, including:
Preparation: some participants were told to be prepared for a memory test by the female target herself and
some were not.
Retention time span: some participants were required to recall immediately and others four hours later.
Line-up: some participants saw the female target in the photograph line up, whilst others did not.
Participants were randomly allocated to the variations. In addition to the field experiment, Yarmey asked 370
psychology undergraduates to predict how much eyewitnesses would be able to recall and the number of correct
Physical characteristics Percentage recall Clothing characteristics Percentage recall
Height 60 Top clothing 60
Weight 44 Bottom clothing 65
Age 97 Jewellery 16
Hair colour 52 footwear 18
Eye colour 21
It is unsurprising that small characteristics, such as jewellery and eye colour, resulted in poor recall. Weight is often
difficult to judge and footwear is often out of our visual field if a person is only a few feet away. Interestingly, when
Yarmey compared the results to what the psychology students predicted, he found that they were largely incorrect.
The students overestimated the recall for hair colour, jewellery and footwear and underestimated the recall of age.
Clearly, not being in the same situation as the witnesses resulted in the students having a lack of understanding
context and experience.
Common sense would suggest that the preparation for a recall test at the time of the encounter with the female
target would result in better recall. However, this was only the case for the recall of physical and clothing
characteristics, particularly eye colour, not for the photographic identification.

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It did not make much difference whether recall was immediate or after a four hour delay, although inexplicably the
witnesses seemed to recall hair colour and footwear better after a four hour delay.
The photograph identification yielded a 49% correct identification rate when the female target was present in the
line up, and there was a rejection rate or 62% when she was not present.…read more


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