IRB Proposal

Caroline Smith and Amy Bradfield (advisor)

September 26, 2003

Project: Manipulation of confidence in eyewitness identification testimony and its effects on subsequent behavior of investigator

 

Overview

There has been a great deal of research in the area of psychology on the potential for bias in eyewitness identification testimony, but the procedure is still used frequently and relied on heavily in our legal system.  Eyewitness evidence may have substantial weight in an investigation, especially when alternative evidence is lacking.  The consequences of false identifications can include wrongful convictions of innocent people, as well as skewed perceptions of the importance of different pieces of evidence in an investigation.  Despite the fact that research has demonstrated that a surprisingly weak correlation exists between accuracy and confidence in person identification, recent studies have shown that jurors still tend to make their decision to believe or not believe an eyewitness based on his or her confidence level.  Few studies, however, have examined how an investigator is influenced by eyewitness confidence.  The proposed study seeks to determine whether or not investigators are influenced by the confidence level of eyewitnesses, and to examine how this potential bias might consequently be used by the investigator to, in turn, influence the identification testimony of subsequent eyewitnesses. 

 

Procedure

A staged crime will take place in a section of Psychology 101 and a First-Year Seminar class.  It will involve a male confederate entering the classroom, walking to the far side of the room, taking the only pack of chalk sitting on the edge of the board, and leaving the room within about 1 minute of his entry.  As the confederate is exiting the classroom with the chalk, the professor will become slightly annoyed—this reaction will increase the likelihood for students to be interested and pay increased attention to the confederate perpetrator.   

The student participants in the First-Year Seminar will be given consent forms in class a week after viewing the staged crime, and after indicating that they agree to participate, they will be asked to identify the suspect based on six photos.  Then, they will receive a debriefing (see attached).  These participants will not be used in the actual experiment, but their identification decisions will be used to determine if one photo is significantly more likely to be identified as the perpetrator than others.  One week after the same crime is staged in the Psych. 101 class, participants (students from two Psych. 101 sections who will be given credit by their professors for participating) will arrive at the experiment location and will complete a consent form (see attached).  After indicating that they agree to participate, participants will learn that the experiment concerns the accuracy of eyewitness identification testimony.  Half of the participants will be investigators, and half (those who viewed the staged crime) will be eyewitnesses.  After being given instructions by the experimenter, the participant investigator will first conduct a photo lineup with a confederate eyewitness who makes his identification with either high or low confidence.  After being given instructions by the investigator a second time, the participant investigator will subsequently conduct a photo lineup with a participant eyewitness, who will make an identification.  Then, both participants will each be given a separate set of questions to answer (see attached).  The experiment will be videotaped without the participant investigators and participant eyewitnesses knowing in order to prevent the camera from influencing their behavior.  Participants will be informed of the taping immediately following the experiment, and the tapes will be destroyed unless participants consent to their use in subsequent experiments in written consent form.  Finally, participants will receive a debriefing (see attached).

 

 

Consent Form (FYS Participants)

           

This consent form was created for use at Bates College (Lewiston, Maine).  The purpose of the study you have agreed to complete is to study the accuracy of eyewitness identification testimony.  You will be asked to identify a suspect from a lineup of six photos.  The entire experiment will take less than 5 minutes.  There will be no discomfort or unpleasantness associated with participation.

            Your participation in this experiment is completely confidential and voluntary.  There will be no record of your name associated with your data.  The data will only be available to the principal experimenters and their assistants.  At any time, you may discontinue your participation without penalty.  If you have any questions, they will be answered by Carrie Smith (csmith@bates.edu) or Dr. Amy Bradfield (abradfie@bates.edu).  After making your identification, the procedure will be explained to you in more detail.

 

 

I have read the above information and have been informed of the procedure in this experiment.  I understand that I may withdraw from the experiment at any time without penalty.  By signing the line below, I agree to participate in the experiment as described above. 

 

X_____________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Consent Form (Psychology 101 Participants)

           

This consent form was created for use at Bates College (Lewiston, Maine).  The purpose of the study you have agreed to complete is to study the accuracy of eyewitness identification testimony.  If you are in the role of a participant investigator, you will conduct two subsequent photo lineups to two eyewitnesses.  If you are in the role of a participant eyewitness, you will be asked to identify a suspect from a lineup of six photos. 

            The entire experiment will take less than 30 minutes.  There will be no discomfort or unpleasantness associated with participation.

            Your participation in this experiment is completely confidential and voluntary.  There will be no record of your name associated with your data.  The data will only be available to the principal experimenters and their assistants.  At any time, you may discontinue your participation without penalty.  If you have any questions, they will be answered by Carrie Smith (csmith@bates.edu) or Dr. Amy Bradfield (abradfie@bates.edu).  At the end of the survey, the procedure will be explained to you in more detail.

 

 

I have read the above information and have been informed of the procedure in this experiment.  I understand that I may withdraw from the experiment at any time without penalty.  By signing the line below, I agree to participate in the experiment as described above. 

 

X_____________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Consent Form for Use of Videotapes

 

 

The photo lineup administration process in this experiment was videotaped by the experimenter so that the tapes could be used later for the purpose of identifying if, when, and how cues were given by the participant investigators to participant eyewitness.  In order to closely observe the investigator-eyewitness interaction without affecting it, sessions were videotaped without the participants knowing. 

            Our use of the taped sessions from this experiment is completely dependent on whether or not you feel comfortable with it.  If you do not want your tape observed or used in the experiment, it will not be.  If you agree to allow the tapes to be used, they will only be viewed by the researchers, and the participants (approximately 50 Bates College students) who will be used next semester to analyze the tapes based on a coded format the experimenters will provide them with.  If you have any questions, they will be answered by Carrie Smith (csmith@bates.edu) or Dr. Amy Bradfield (abradfie@bates.edu).

 

 

I have read the above information and I understand that it is my decision whether or not the videotapes of my photo lineup session in this experiment are used.  I can request for the tapes not to be used without penalty.  By signing the line below, I am giving the experiment permission to use my tapes for the purpose described above. 

 

X_____________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Questionnaire for Participant Investigator

 

The following questions refer to the photo lineup procedure.  In answering these questions, please try to be completely truthful.

 

How confident did the first eyewitness seem?  (Circle one)

 

0          1            2            3            4            5            6            7            8            9            10

not at all                                                                                                           extremely

confident                                                                                                          confident

 

Did you believe the testimony of the first eyewitness?  (Circle one)

 

Yes                              No

 

 

Did you give any cues at all, either unintentionally or intentionally, to the second eyewitness?  (Circle one)

 

Yes                              No

 

 

 

If you answered “Yes”, do you think that the cues you gave the second eyewitness influenced his or her identification decision?  (Circle one)

 

Yes                              No

 

 

 

Overall, how fair did you find the photo lineup procedure to be? (Circle one)

 

0          1            2            3            4            5            6            7            8            9            10

not at all                                                                                                           completely

fair                                                                                                                   fair                  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Questionnaire for Participant Eyewitness

 

The following questions refer to the photo lineup procedure.  In answering these questions, please try to be completely truthful.

 

How confident were you in identifying the suspect? (Circle one)

 

0          1            2            3            4            5            6            7            8            9            10

not at all                                                                                                           extremely

confident                                                                                                          confident

 

 

Did you feel that you were giving cues from the investigator at any point and to any extent during the photo lineup procedure? (Circle one)

 

Yes                              No

 

If you answered “Yes”, do you think these cues influenced your identification decision?  (Circle one)

 

Yes                              No

 

 

Overall, how fair did you find the photo lineup procedure to be?  (Circle one)

 

0          1            2            3            4            5            6            7            8            9            10

not at all                                                                                                           completely

fair                                                                                                                   fair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           

 

Thank you for your participation.  At this point, I’d like to describe the purpose of my study in more detail.  There has been a great deal of research in the area of psychology on the potential for bias in eyewitness identification testimony, but the procedure is still used frequently and relied on heavily in our legal system.  Eyewitness evidence may have substantial weight in an investigation, especially when alternative evidence is lacking.  The consequences of false identifications can include wrongful convictions of innocent people, as well as skewed perceptions of the importance of different pieces of evidence in an investigation.  Despite the fact that research has demonstrated that there is a very weak relationship between accuracy and confidence in person identification, recent studies have shown that jurors still tend to make their decision to believe or not believe an eyewitness based on his or her confidence level.  Few studies, however, have examined how an investigator is influenced by eyewitness confidence.  

In this study, I am interested in determining whether or not investigators are influenced by the confidence level of eyewitnesses.  For example, are investigators more likely to believe the testimony of eyewitnesses who exude confidence when making their decisions?  Or, are they less likely to believe eyewitnesses who seem uncertain in their identifications?  As explained earlier, confidence and accuracy in eyewitness testimony have been shown to be unrelated, and it is for this reason that investigators should ideally not be influenced by confidence.  In addition to looking at whether or not investigators are influenced by confidence level of eyewitnesses, this study examines how this potential bias might consequently be used by the investigator to, in turn, influence the identification testimony of subsequent eyewitnesses.

Half of the participants in this study viewed a stage crime one week earlier in their Psychology 101 class.  These participants were used for the role of eyewitnesses, while the other half of the participants were used for the role of investigators.  There was one independent variable in our study: the level of confidence of the first eyewitness in his identification decision in the photo lineup.  In order to manipulate this variable, we used a confederate eyewitness (who knew everything that was going on in our study) to whom the photo lineup was administered first by every participant investigator.  This confederate eyewitness either made his identification decision with a high level of confidence or a low level of confidence.  In doing so, we could control whether or not participant investigators conducted photo lineups for the first time to highly confident or highly unconfident eyewitnesses.  Our thinking was that investigators who administered the lineup to highly confident initial eyewitnesses would be more likely to attempt to sway their second eyewitness to identify the same person that the first eyewitness identified.  We can examine investigator bias indirectly by measuring the likelihood for second participant eyewitnesses to choose the same person as the confederate eyewitness in the two confidence conditions.  We can more closely and directly examine investigator cues by observing the videotapes.  Research like this is intended to ensure that, even if investigators are influenced by the confidence level of one eyewitness, they will not use this influence to intentionally or unintentionally give subsequent eyewitnesses cues that might unfairly affect their identification decisions.   

You should know that whether or not you gave cues as an investigator says nothing about the kind of person you are.  These cues can be given unintentionally as often as they can be given intentionally.  By the same measure, eyewitnesses are often influenced by these cues without their conscious knowledge.  Additionally, you should not feel bad for falsely identifying someone because the actual culprit was not even present in the photo lineup, which means that every identification made was false.

Because it was important that you did not know that we were measuring the tendency for influence in identification testimony and the photo lineup process, if you know anyone participating in the study, please do not tell them about the experiment in detail.  That way, we can keep the experiment the same for everyone.  Do you understand?  If you have any questions, you can contact one of the principal investigators, Carrie Smith (csmith@bates.edu) or Dr. Amy Bradfield (abradfie@bates.edu).  Thanks again for your participation.