Psych and the Law
Estimator Variables and System
A. Estimator Variables
- Characteristics of the perpetrator
- Distinctiveness- tattoos, scars, moles etc.
- Man who robbed bank put tinfoil on their teeth to disguise. Later that was the only
thing the teller could remember about them
- Disguises-cover hair/ hairline= most common. Somehow covering hair changes our
perception of other facial characteristics.
- No hat= eyewitness recognizes with 45% accuracy rate. Hat= only 27% correct
- Defendant and eyewitness race—both important. When defendant and eye-witness
same race- recognizes easier
- Cross race effect-when eyewitness and defendant different race- accuracy goes
down. When different = 1.5x more likely to make incorrect identification .
- Small decline if you grow up in a different culture/ greatly exposed to .
- Totally different when trying to recognize voice. Different process.
B. System variables- factors that influence eyewitness memory that happen after the
crime. (how tested/questioned.) Related to factors that the legal system can control
- Retention interval-how long after the crime has occurred is the eye witness asked to
identify the defendant?
- The sooner asked, the better/ more accurate. - Studies suggest that our memories begin to decay immediately. Within 24 hours we
forget about half.
- After certain amount of time, remembering seems to go through a peak. Ex: two
months later. This is inaccurate. This is false information/ memory. Fills in gaps of
information—misinformation effect. Ex: police unwittingly give information to the
defendant and they then “remember” that info later.
- Questioning/ interviewing of EW—way of police going about questioning, wording,
- Wording of questions...Loftus and Palmer (1974)—Palmer changed verbs in study.
“Crashed” “Bumped” or “Smashed” Participants estimated higher speeds for
“crashed” than “bumped” also misremembered glass in “crashed” rather than
- Leading questions- adding info may have otherwise not hat ex: “was the hat red?”
- Word choice- ex: Preowned car rather than used—preowned makes it sound better.
= Word choice influential
- Mugshots- used to help witnesses remember who saw. Witnesses flip through books
of hundreds and hundreds of defendants and try to ID them.
- Unconscious transfer- mugshots. Someone’s face may start to look familiar. Can
misremember where see face. Ex: Did I see it in the book o