The Effect of Race and Crime Type on Eyewitness Identification


Kiana Holmes

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Psychology and Special Education

Date of Award

Summer 2021


Many wrongful convictions are based on mistaken eyewitness identifications. This thesis featured the effect that crime and race stereotypes have on eyewitness identification. Research suggests that “memory of a perpetrator’s appearance will be affected by the type of crime that occurred” (Eberhardt, Dasgupta, & Banaszynski, 2003). The goal of this study was to further examine who eyewitnesses identify as a perpetrator based on the type of crime as well as the perpetrator’s race. Across several experimental blocks, participants read a vignette describing a stereotypically “Black,” “White,” or Neutral crime, and there was either a Black or White face on the screen under the vignette. After a brief distractor task in each block, a lineup was presented that either contained the target face that was with the vignette shown in the same block(i.e., target-present lineup), or a filler “innocent suspect” (i.e., target-absent lineup). All members of the lineup shared all demographic characteristics with the target or filler, including race. The participants were asked to select the target from a lineup or reject it if it did not contain the target, and then provide their confidence in their response. Results showed that after reading a neutral and Black vignette participants identified and chose Black targets at a significantly higher rate compared to White targets. Additional results partially supported my hypothesis that Black targets would be chosen more when there is an activation of a Black stereotype. The interaction was marginal and it was driven by Neutral and Black vignettes boosting choosing rate for Black targets, whereas the White vignette eliminated this bias. Black suspects had a higher rate of misidentification in target absent lineups compared to White suspects, and participants were more confident in choosing Black targets. The results of the current study apply to eyewitness identification and are particularly relevant for the criminal justice system, which evaluates the reliability of eyewitness identification.


Curt Carlson

Subject Categories

Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences