Eyewitness identification across the life span: a meta-analysis of age differences

Ryan J. Fitzgerald, Heather L. Price

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Abstract

Lineup identifications are often a critical component of criminal investigations. Over the past 35 years, researchers have been conducting empirical studies to assess the impact of witness age on identification accuracy. A previous meta-analysis indicated that children are less likely than adults to correctly reject a lineup that does not contain the culprit, but children 5 years and older are as likely as adults to make a correct identification if the culprit is in the lineup (Pozzulo & Lindsay, 1998). We report an updated meta-analysis of age differences in eyewitness identification, summarizing data from 20,244 participants across 91 studies. Contrary to extant reviews, we adopt a life span approach and examine witnesses from early childhood to late adulthood. Children’s increased tendency to erroneously select a culprit-absent lineup member was replicated. Children were also less likely than young adults to correctly identify the culprit. Group data from culprit-absent and culprit-present lineups were used to produce signal detection measures, which indicated young adults were better able than children to discriminate between guilty and innocent suspects. A strikingly similar pattern emerged for older adults, who had even stronger deficits in discriminability than children, relative to adults. Although identifications by young adults were the most reliable, identifications by all witnesses had probative value.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1228-1265
Number of pages38
JournalPsychological Bulletin
Volume141
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2015

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