On the importance of considering heterogeneity in witnesses’ competence levels when reconstructing crimes from multiple witness testimonies
Aggregating information across multiple testimonies may improve crime reconstructions. However, different aggregation methods are available, and research on which method is best suited for aggregating multiple observations is lacking. Furthermore, little is known about how variance in the accuracy of individual testimonies impacts the performance of competing aggregation procedures. We investigated the superiority of aggregation-based crime reconstructions involving multiple individual testimonies and whether this superiority varied as a function of the number of witnesses and the degree of heterogeneity in witnesses’ ability to accurately report their observations. Moreover, we examined whether heterogeneity in competence levels differentially affected the relative accuracy of two aggregation procedures: a simple majority rule, which ignores individual differences, and the more complex general Condorcet model (Romney et al., Am Anthropol 88(2):313–338, 1986; Batchelder and Romney, Psychometrika 53(1):71–92, 1988), which takes into account differences in competence between individuals. 121 participants viewed a simulated crime and subsequently answered 128 true/false questions about the crime. We experimentally generated groups of witnesses with homogeneous or heterogeneous competences. Both the majority rule and the general Condorcet model provided more accurate reconstructions of the observed crime than individual testimonies. The superiority of aggregated crime reconstructions involving multiple individual testimonies increased with an increasing number of witnesses. Crime reconstructions were most accurate when competences were heterogeneous and aggregation was based on the general Condorcet model. We argue that a formal aggregation should be considered more often when eyewitness testimonies have to be assessed and that the general Condorcet model provides a good framework for such aggregations.
KeywordsAggregation Method Simple Majority Rule Witness Testimony Majority Reconstruction Individual Witness
Compliance with ethical standards
All procedures performed in the study reported in this manuscript were in accordance with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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