Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Encyclopedia of Psychology and Law, ed. Brian L. Cutler (Newbury Park, CA: SAGE Publications, 2008). Copyright © 2007 SAGE Publications. Used by permission.


The role of an eyewitness can be extremely important in the legal system, as eyewitness testimony and eyewitness identifications play a major role in the prosecution of a criminal defendant. Often the courts are left to rely solely on an eyewitness because there is no other physical evidence. This leaves the jury to rely on a witness’s testimony. Jurors are asked to determine the credibility of an eyewitness at trial when rendering a verdict, and jurors have been found to place more emphasis on eyewitness testimony than on any other kind of evidence. However, there are numerous documented cases of mistaken identifications, and erroneous identifications have been regarded as a leading cause of wrongful convictions. One of the reasons for juries’ wrongful convictions based on eyewitness misidentifications is that jurors are not sensitive to the factors that affect identification accuracy. Because jurors rely heavily on eyewitness testimony, it is important to determine what lay people understand about eyewitness performance.