Eyewitness Memory

Our research in this area has focused on several important factors that influence both the recall of information by witnesses and the likelihood of subsequent identification of the perpetrator from a photographic lineup.  We approach each of these issues using both basic research and more applied eyewitness paradigms, with the intent of generalizing basic theories of memory to understand factors that influence witness performance.


Improving Eyewitness Recall & Lineup Identification

Research suggests that erroneous eyewitness identification is the primary factor underlying wrongful conviction in the United States.  Our research has sought to identify procedures that might alleviate the likelihood of misidentification and to understand the cognitive and social psychological processes that govern misidentification and false memories.  We have also worked to identify more diagnostic methods for interviewing witness.

Colloff, M. F., Flowe, H. D., Smith, H. M. J., Seale-Carlisle, T. M., Meissner, C. A., Rockey, J. C., Pande, B., Kujur, P., Parveen, N., Chandel, P., Singh, M. M., Pradhan, S., & Parganiha, A. (2022). Active exploration of faces in police lineups increases discrimination accuracy. American Psychologist, 77, 196-220.

Dianiska, R. E., Manley, K. D., & Meissner, C. A. (2021). A process perspective: The importance of theory in eyewitness identification research. In Smith et al. (Eds.), Methods, measures, and theories in eyewitness identification tasks. Taylor & Francis.

Wells, G. L., Kovera, M. B., Douglass, A. B., Brewer, N., Meissner, C. A., & Wixted, J. T. (2020). Policy and procedure recommendations for the collection and preservation of eyewitness evidence. Law & Human Behavior, 44, 3-36.

Jones, R. L., Scullin, M. H, & Meissner, C. A. (2011). Evidence of differential performance on simultaneous and sequential lineups for individuals with autism-spectrum traits. Personality & Individual Differences, 51, 537-540.

Malpass, R. S., Ross, S. J., Meissner, C. A., & Marcon, J. L. (2009). The need for expert psychological testimony on eyewitness identification. In B. Cutler’s (Ed.), Expert testimony on the psychology of eyewitness identification (pp. 3-27). Kluwer Academic/Plenum Press.

Lane, S. M., & Meissner, C. A. (2008). A “middle road” approach to bridging the basic-applied divide in eyewitness identification research. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 22, 779-787.

Haw, R. M., Dickinson, J. J., & Meissner, C. A. (2007). The phenomenology of carryover effects between showup and lineup identification. Memory, 15, 117-127.

Bornstein, B. H., & Meissner, C. A. (2008). Basic and applied issues in eyewitness research: A Münsterberg centennial retrospective. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 22, 733-736.

Malpass, R. S., Susa, K. J., & Meissner, C. A. (2008). Training of eyewitnesses. In B. Cutler’s (Ed.), Encyclopedia of psychology & law, Vol. 2 (pp. 807-808). Sage Publications.

Susa, K. J., & Meissner, C. A. (2008). Accuracy of eyewitness descriptions. In B. Cutler’s (Ed.), Encyclopedia of psychology & law, Vol. 1 (pp. 285-287). Sage Publications.

Malpass, R. S., Zimmerman, L. A., Meissner, C. A., Ross, S. J., Rigoni, M. E., Topp, L. D., Pruss, N., Tredoux, C. T., & Leyva, J. M. (2005). Eyewitness memory and identification. The San Antonio Defender, 7, 2-13.

Meissner, C. A., Tredoux, C. G., Parker, J. F., & MacLin, O. H. (2005). Eyewitness decisions in simultaneous and sequential lineups: A dual-process signal detection theory analysis. Memory & Cognition, 33, 783-792.

Tredoux, C. G., Meissner, C. A., Malpass, R. S., & Zimmerman, L. A. (2004). Eyewitness identification. In C. Spielberger’s (Ed.), Encyclopedia of applied psychology (pp. 875-887). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Goodwin, K. A., Meissner, C. A., & Ericsson, K. A. (2001). Towards a model of false recall: Experimental manipulation of encoding context and the collection of verbal reports. Memory & Cognition, 29, 806-819.

Brigham, J. C., Meissner, C. A., & Wasserman, A. W. (1999). Applied issues in the construction and expert assessment of photo lineups. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 13, S73-S92.

Brigham, J. C., Wasserman, A. W., & Meissner, C. A. (1999). Disputed eyewitness identification evidence: Important legal and scientific issues. Court Review, 36, 12-25.


Cross-Racial Identification

Faces of one’s own race are better remembered when compared with faces of another, less familiar race.  This phenomenon is often referred to as the “cross-race effect” or “own-race bias,” and has been demonstrated across a variety of memory tasks (e.g., recognition, identification, forced choice, etc.), in both adults and children and across a variety of ethnic groups (e.g., White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, etc.).  We have recently extended our understanding of this phenomenon to perceptual identification paradigms (simulating the task of a TSA agent).

Susa, K. J., Dessenberger, S. J., Michael, S. W., & Meissner, C. A. (2019). Imposter identification in low prevalence environments. Legal & Criminological Psychology, 24, 179-193.

Bornstein, B. H., Laub, C. E., Meissner, C. A., Susa, K. J. (2013). The cross-race effect: Resistant to instructions. Journal of Criminology, 1-6.

Meissner, C. A., Susa, K. J., & Ross, A. B. (2013). Can I see your passport please? Perceptual discrimination of own- and other-race faces. Visual Cognition, 21, 1287-1305.

Marcon, J. L., Meissner, C. A., Freuh, M., Susa, K. J., & MacLin, O. H. (2010). Perceptual identification and the cross-race effect. Visual Cognition, 18, 767-779.

Susa, K. J., Meissner, C. A., & de Heer, H. (2010). Modeling the role of social-cognitive processes in the recognition of own- and other-race faces. Social Cognition, 28, 519-533.

Evans, J. R., Marcon, J. L., & Meissner, C. A. (2009). Cross-racial lineup identification: The potential benefits of context reinstatement. Psychology, Crime, & Law, 15, 19-28.

Marcon, J. L., Susa, K. J., & Meissner, C. A. (2009). Assessing the influence of recollection and familiarity in memory for own- and other-race faces. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 16, 99-103.

Chiroro, P. M., Tredoux, C. G., Radaelli, S., & Meissner, C. A. (2008). Recognizing faces across continents: The effect of within-race variations on the own-race bias in face recognition. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 15, 1089-1092.

Jackiw, L. B., Arbuthnott, K. D., Pfeifer, J. E., Marcon, J. L., & Meissner, C. A. (2008). Examining the cross-race effect in lineup identification using Caucasian and First Nations samples. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 40, 52-57.

Marcon, J. L., Meissner, C. A., & Malpass, R. S. (2008). Cross-race effect in eyewitness identification. In B. Cutler’s (Ed.), Encyclopedia of psychology & law, Vol. 1 (pp. 172-175). Sage Publications.

Brigham, J. C., Bennett, L. B., Meissner, C. A., & Mitchell, T. L. (2007). The influence of race on eyewitness memory. In R. Lindsay, D. Ross, J. Read, & M. Toglia, (Eds). Handbook of eyewitness psychology: Memory for people (pp. 257-281), Lawrence Erlbaum & Associates.

Corenblum, B., & Meissner, C. A. (2006). Recognition of faces of ingroup and outgroup children and adults. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 93, 187-206.

Meissner, C. A., Brigham, J. C., & Butz, D. A. (2005). Memory for own- and other-race faces: A dual-process approach. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 19, 545-567.

Meissner, C. A., & Brigham, J. C. (2001). Thirty years of investigating the own-race bias in memory for faces: A meta-analytic review. Psychology, Public Policy, & Law, 7, 3-35.

Slone, A. E., Brigham, J. C., & Meissner, C. A. (2000). Social and cognitive factors affecting the own-race bias in Whites. Basic & Applied Social Psychology, 22, 71-84.


The Description-Identification Relationship & “Verbal Overshadowing”

An individuals’ ability to describe a face does not always relate to their ability to identify a face. Similarly, the processes that govern face descriptions vs. identification appear distinct. Our research has continued to examine this description-identification relationship through the “verbal overshadowing” effect — the finding that describing a face via verbal description can subsequently impair identification of that face from a lineup.

Alonga et al. (2014). Registered replication report: Schooler and Engstler-Schooler (1990). Perspectives on Psychological Science, 9, 556-578.

Meissner, C. A., Sporer, S. L., & Susa, K. J. (2008). A theoretical and meta-analytic review of the relationship between verbal descriptions and identification accuracy in memory for faces. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 20, 414-455.

Meissner, C. A., Sporer, S. L., & Schooler, J. W. (2007). Person descriptions as eyewitness evidence. In R. Lindsay, D. Ross, J. Read, & M. Toglia, (Eds). Handbook of eyewitness psychology: Memory for people (pp. 3-34), Lawrence Erlbaum & Associates.

Meissner, C. A. (2002). Applied aspects of the instructional bias effect in verbal overshadowing. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 16, 911-928.

Meissner, C. A., & Memon, A. (2002). Verbal overshadowing: A special issue exploring theoretical and applied issues. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 16, 869-872.

Meissner, C. A., & Brigham, J. C. (2001). A meta-analysis of the verbal overshadowing effect in face identification. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 15, 603-616.

Meissner, C. A., Brigham, J. C., & Kelley, C. M. (2001). The influence of retrieval processes in verbal overshadowing. Memory & Cognition, 29, 176-186.