Day 2 from Munsterberg — Face Recognition, Eye Tracking, and the Suggestibility of Human Memory

Some notes from Day 2 at the “Off the Witness Stand” conference — particularly interesting was a paper presentation on the use of visual behavior as a mechanism to understand eyewitness decision-making in simultaneous lineups. Witnesses were suited up with eye-tracking equipment, which recorded the direction and duration of eye movements throughout a series of test sessions at which they attempted to select culprits from simultaneous lineups. Results were mapped to the locations of lineup members, and charted so as to represent the paths taken by the eyes, revisitations to particular subjects, and comparisions between two or more subjects. One observation was that many subjects neglected to view one or more lineup participants altogether, which is to say that the witness’s eyes never rested on certain individuals. Those cases represented the highest level of false identifications.

Following that talk, Beth Loftus suggested that the same technology might be used to test the weapon-focus effect, by tracking eye movements directed at a weapon versus a face in a staged incident.

Another session focused on the suggestibility of human memory. Notable findings included the fact that the mere showing of a photo of a particular activity to subjects, followed by a week or more delay, had the effect of implanting the memory in the subject’s mind of actually having performed that activity.

More to come. Dr. Saul Kassin is up next, with a presentation on “untrue confessions” from colonial Salem to the 21st century.

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