Consistency across Repeated Eyewitness Interviews: Contrasting Police Detectives' Beliefs with Actual Eyewitness Performance

Alana C. Krix*, Melanie Sauerland, Clemens Lorei, Imke Rispens

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In the legal system, inconsistencies in eyewitness accounts are often used to discredit witnesses' credibility. This is at odds with research findings showing that witnesses frequently report reminiscent details (details previously unrecalled) at an accuracy rate that is nearly as high as for consistently recalled information. The present study sought to put the validity of beliefs about recall consistency to a test by directly comparing them with actual memory performance in two recall attempts. All participants watched a film of a staged theft. Subsequently, the memory group (N = 84) provided one statement immediately after the film (either with the Self-Administered Interview or free recall) and one after a one-week delay. The estimation group (N = 81) consisting of experienced police detectives estimated the recall performance of the memory group. The results showed that actual recall performance was consistently underestimated. Also, a sharp decline of memory performance between recall attempts was assumed by the estimation group whereas actual accuracy remained stable. While reminiscent details were almost as accurate as consistent details, they were estimated to be much less accurate than consistent information and as inaccurate as direct contradictions. The police detectives expressed a great concern that reminiscence was the result of suggestive external influences. In conclusion, it seems that experienced police detectives hold many implicit beliefs about recall consistency that do not correspond with actual recall performance. Recommendations for police trainings are provided. These aim at fostering a differentiated view on eyewitness performance and the inclusion of more comprehensive classes on human memory structure.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 19 Feb 2015

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