A theoretical analysis of eyewitness identification: Dual -process theory, signal detection theory and eyewitness confidence

Ryann Michelle Haw, Florida International University


Given the growing number of wrongful convictions involving faulty eyewitness evidence and the strong reliance by jurors on eyewitness testimony, researchers have sought to develop safeguards to decrease erroneous identifications. While decades of eyewitness research have led to numerous recommendations for the collection of eyewitness evidence, less is known regarding the psychological processes that govern identification responses. The purpose of the current research was to expand the theoretical knowledge of eyewitness identification decisions by exploring two separate memory theories: signal detection theory and dual-process theory. This was accomplished by examining both system and estimator variables in the context of a novel lineup recognition paradigm. Both theories were also examined in conjunction with confidence to determine whether it might add significantly to the understanding of eyewitness memory. In two separate experiments, both an encoding and a retrieval-based manipulation were chosen to examine the application of theory to eyewitness identification decisions. Dual-process estimates were measured through the use of remember-know judgments (Gardiner & Richardson-Klavehn, 2000). In Experiment 1, the effects of divided attention and lineup presentation format (simultaneous vs. sequential) were examined. In Experiment 2, perceptual distance and lineup response deadline were examined. Overall, the results indicated that discrimination and remember judgments (recollection) were generally affected by variations in encoding quality and response criterion and know judgments (familiarity) were generally affected by variations in retrieval options. Specifically, as encoding quality improved, discrimination ability and judgments of recollection increased; and as the retrieval task became more difficult there was a shift toward lenient choosing and more reliance on familiarity. The application of signal detection theory and dual-process theory in the current experiments produced predictable results on both system and estimator variables. These theories were also compared to measures of general confidence, calibration, and diagnosticity. The application of the additional confidence measures in conjunction with signal detection theory and dual-process theory gave a more in-depth explanation than either theory alone. Therefore, the general conclusion is that eyewitness identifications can be understood in a more complete manor by applying theory and examining confidence. Future directions and policy implications are discussed.

Subject Area

Cognitive therapy|Psychology|Experiments

Recommended Citation

Haw, Ryann Michelle, "A theoretical analysis of eyewitness identification: Dual -process theory, signal detection theory and eyewitness confidence" (2005). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3169457.