Absolute and Relative Judgments and the Relationship Between Eyewitness Accuracy and Confidence

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Research in eyewitness identification has found that eyewitness confidence can be highly predictive of eyewitness accuracy if a set of pristine testing conditions are met. Fuzzy-trace theory (FTT), a dual-process theory of cognition and memory, predicts that the distinction between pristine and non-pristine conditions results from differing reliance on verbatim versus gist traces, with verbatim traces used more in pristine conditions and gist traces used more in non-pristine conditions. According to FTT, use of verbatim traces leads to absolute judgments and use of gist traces leads to relative judgments. The current study tests this theory by comparing eyewitness accuracy and confidence for lineups in which the foils are visually similar to the suspect, a requirement for pristine testing, with lineups in which most of the foils are dissimilar to the suspect. We presented these lineups both simultaneously and sequentially. As sequential lineups are thought to promote absolute judgments, we expected that, compared to simultaneous lineups, the distinction in the confidence-accuracy relationship between pristine and non-pristine conditions would be smaller. While we found that adding dissimilar foils to a fair lineup did lead to decreased accuracy and increased confidence in false identifications, we did not find any interactions between the lineup presentation (sequential or simultaneous) and the lineup composition, which does not support our hypothesis. These results may suggest that simultaneous versus sequential lineups may not be an effective manipulation of the use of absolute versus relative judgments. The data suggest that eyewitnesses are making relative judgments from sequential lineups.

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Cognitive psychology; Law; Fuzzy-trace theory; confidence and accuracy; eyewitness identification; simultaneous and sequential lineups


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Brainerd, Charles

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Ceci, Stephen John
Hans, Valerie

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Human Development

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M.A., Human Development

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Master of Arts

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Government Document




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dissertation or thesis

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