What If a Witness Was Acquainted with a Suspect Prior to a Crime? An Investigation of Unconscious Transference by Manipulating Prior Familiarity
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)
Psychology and Special Education
Date of Award
The purpose of this study was to gain a better understanding of how prior familiarity with a suspect influenced identification (ID) accuracy, while also exploring the phenomenon of unconscious transference where an innocent suspect is confused for a perpetrator (e.g., Loftus, 1976). Despite a large number of documented cases where the eyewitness was previously acquainted with the suspect (Flowe, Mehta, & Ebbesen, 2011), few researchers have fully explored prior suspect familiarity using a lineup paradigm (Vallano, Slapinski, Steele, Briggs, & Pozzulo, 2019). In the current study, I addressed these issues by using a face-learning paradigm where participants were familiarized with a set of previously unfamiliar faces. Two days later, participants (N = 113) were presented with a series of target faces labeled as guilty suspects in a crime and the faces were either familiar (i.e., from Day 1) or unfamiliar. Following each target face, participants received a lineup that either contained the target/guilty suspect or innocent suspect, and each was either familiar or unfamiliar. Following each lineup decision and confidence rating, participants answered a series of source and recollection questions. Prior familiarity led to a more liberal response bias, leading to more guilty and innocent suspect IDs compared to when no familiarity existed. I also successfully demonstrated unconscious transference, with the majority of these errors supporting either the poor source retrieval or memory blending theoretical account. Interestingly, the confidence-accuracy relationship was strongest for familiar suspect lineups. Future researchers should manipulate familiarity as a continuous variable (e.g., number of exposures each face is seen) and examine how familiarity interacts with other system and estimator variables such as ID procedure type and cross-race IDs.
Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences
Wooten, Alex, "What If a Witness Was Acquainted with a Suspect Prior to a Crime? An Investigation of Unconscious Transference by Manipulating Prior Familiarity" (2020). Electronic Theses & Dissertations. 231.