An Examination of Showups Conducted by Law Enforcement Using a Field-Simulation Paradigm

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Abstract

While there is a growing body of research examining the relatively “cold,” cognitive decision-making components of showups, few attempts have been made to capture the “hot” affective components of showups that are thought to exacerbate the suggestiveness of the procedure. In 3 simulated-field experiments, we partnered with law enforcement to examine how participants who were led to believe they were involved in an actual criminal investigation (Field-simulation condition) differed from participants who knew they were not part of an actual investigation (Lab-simulation condition). We staged crimes for both conditions, but in the field-simulation condition, law enforcement personnel carried out mock investigations that culminated with a live showup. In Experiment 1 (N = 321), which did not include a culprit-present condition, the field-simulation condition increased innocent suspect identifications. The standard showup admonition decreased innocent suspect identifications, but only for dissimilar innocent suspects. Experiment 2 (N = 196) added a culprit-present condition and found that the field-simulation condition increased innocent suspect and culprit identifications to a similar extent. Experiment 3 (N = 367) replicated the findings of Experiment 2 and examined the impact of admonishing eyewitnesses that if they did not believe the suspect was the culprit, they might have additional opportunities to make an identification. Confidence-accuracy calibration analyses revealed that confidence discriminated accurate from inaccurate identifications in the field, but not in the lab; however, eyewitnesses who made identifications in the field were overconfident and across all levels of confidence were less likely to be correct than eyewitnesses who made identifications in the lab.

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