Law and Human Behavior

, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 6–10 | Cite as

Field Experiments on Eyewitness Identification: Towards a Better Understanding of Pitfalls and Prospects

  • Gary L. Wells
Original Article


The Illinois pilot program on lineup procedures has helped sharpen the focus on the types of controls that are needed in eyewitness field experiments and the limits that exist for interpreting outcome measures (rates of suspect and filler identifications). A widely-known limitation of field experiments is that, unlike simulated crime experiments, the guilt or innocence of the suspects is not easily known independently of the behavior of the eyewitnesses. Less well appreciated is that the rate of identification of lineup fillers, although clearly errors, can be a misleading measure if the filler identification rate is used to assess which of two or more lineup procedures is the better procedure. Several examples are used to illustrate that there are clearly improper procedures that would yield fewer identifications of fillers than would their proper counterparts. For example, biased lineup structure (e.g., using poorly matched fillers) as well as suggestive lineup procedures (that can result from non-blind administration of lineups) would reduce filler identification errors compared to unbiased and non-suggestive procedures. Hence, under many circumstances filler identification rates can be misleading indicators of preferred methods. Comparisons of lineup procedures in future field experiments will not be easily accepted in the absence of double-blind administration methods in all conditions plus true random assignment to conditions.


Eyewitness Lineups Field experiments 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Psychology DepartmentIowa State UniversityAmesUSA

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