Convicting with confidence? Why we should not over-rely on eyewitness confidence

5 Pages Posted: 8 Sep 2022

See all articles by Shari R. Berkowitz

Shari R. Berkowitz

University of California, Irvine

Brandon L. Garrett

Duke University School of Law

Kimberly Fenn

Michigan State University - Department of Psychology

Elizabeth F. Loftus

University of California, Irvine - Department of Psychological Science; University of California, Irvine School of Law

Date Written: September 7, 2022

Abstract

Eyewitness memory researchers have recently devoted considerable attention to eyewitness confidence. While there is strong consensus that courtroom confidence is problematic, we now recognise that an eyewitness’s initial confidence in their first identification – in certain contexts – can be of value. A few psychological scientists, however, have confidently, but erroneously claimed that in real-world cases, eyewitness initial confidence is the most important indicator of eyewitness accuracy, trumping all other factors that might exist in a case. This claim accompanies an exaggeration of the role of eyewitnesses’ “initial confidence” in the DNA exoneration cases. Still worse, overstated claims about the confidence-accuracy relationship, and eyewitness memory, have reached our top scientific journals, news articles, and criminal cases. To set the record straight, we review what we actually know and do not know about the “initial confidence” of eyewitnesses in the DNA exoneration cases. Further reasons for skepticism about the value of the confidence-accuracy relationship in real-world cases come from new analyses of a separate database, the National Registry of Exonerations. Finally, we review new research that reveals numerous conditions wherein eyewitnesses with high initial confidence end up being wrong.

Keywords: Confidence and accuracy, eyewitness memory, eyewitness identification, DNA exonerations, wrongful convictions

Suggested Citation

Berkowitz, Shari R. and Garrett, Brandon L. and Fenn, Kimberly and Loftus, Elizabeth F., Convicting with confidence? Why we should not over-rely on eyewitness confidence (September 7, 2022). Memory, Vol.30, No.1, 2022, UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2022-28, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4212793

Shari R. Berkowitz (Contact Author)

University of California, Irvine ( email )

Campus Drive
Irvine, CA California 62697-3125
United States

Brandon L. Garrett

Duke University School of Law ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States
919-613-7090 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.brandonlgarrett.com/

Kimberly Fenn

Michigan State University - Department of Psychology ( email )

East Lansing, MI 48823
United States

Elizabeth F. Loftus

University of California, Irvine - Department of Psychological Science ( email )

4201 Social & Behavioral Sciences Gateway
University of California, Irvine
Irvine, CA 92697-7085
United States

University of California, Irvine School of Law

401 E. Peltason Dr.
Ste. 1000
Irvine, CA 92697-1000
United States

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