Change Blindness and Eyewitness Identification

Effects on Accuracy and Confidence

The difference between inattentional blindness and change blindness

Change blindness impacts eyewitness identification.

Defining change blindness

Change blindness is a striking phenomenon, one that reveals
limits on conscious awareness and accentuates the discrepancy
between what we see and what we think we see (Simons & Ambinder, 2005, p.48). 

Pay attention to your surroundings.

Even when we are completely sure of what we've seen during a particular event, we should also take into account the existence of effects such as change blindness that might impact our ability to properly identify the changes in the visual field. The consequences can be severe, although they depend on the purpose of our declarations, for instance,  when our declarations are being used as an evidence in court.

The term change blindness refers to the inability to detect the large changes within the visual field, thus being the opposite of change detection. It is a relatively new concept in terms of researchers' interest for studying it, although the phenomenon itself has been a focus point in the literature since the early 1950s (Simons & Ambinder, 2005).

Eyewitness Identification

Sometimes a crucial step in police investigations could be constituted of eyewitness identifications, within which misidentifying an innocent person for events with multiple actors might lead to wrongful convictions. This can happen due to several factors, including the effect known as change blindness

Therefore, the present research paper explored the possible implications of this effect, more specifically the impact on identification accuracy and confidence in an eyewitness event (Fitzgerald, Oriet & Price, 2014). The method used by the researchers involved a video material with two actors, starting with an innocent person walking inside a building and ending with a different person committing a theft in the same building. Those two actors were similar in terms of appearance and they were being chosen through a rigorous process of selection. 

The participants of the research were being assessed through a questionnaire which included recall and identification tasks for recording whether the change was being detected and the thief was correctly identified from a line-up consisting of either the culprit or the innocent person among five fillers. For the recall task, the participants were asked to report as much details as possible about the video and whether they noticed anything unusual. The last task had three possible choices including:

  1. Identifying one of the two actors; 
  2. Identifying a filler or;
  3. Reporting that the thief was not present in the line-up.

More than that, the confidence was assessed promptly after the identification. 

Some of the results included the fact that 64 percent of the participants experienced change blindness with an identification accuracy significantly lower than the ones who detected the change and a significantly higher rate of filler misidentification. Moreover, change detection rates were similar among men and women.

Furthermore, change detection didn’t necessarily lead to a considerable higher rate of correct identification. However, it did cause a significant increase in post-identification confidence. Regarding to that, the researchers consider that, after successfully detecting the change in the video, participants experienced a boost in confidence which created a false sense of confidence for the identification task. 

As a conclusion, the findings suggest that change blindness indeed leads to an increase in misidentifications, which were quite equally distributed among the Video Innocent and the fillers providing the possibility of wrongful convictions occurrences. Also, Fitzgerald, Oriet, and Price believe that their study outlines the significance of official line-up identification research protocols that should be followed at all times to avoid negative outcomes that would interfere with the ongoing police investigations.


References

  1. Fitzgerald, R. J., Oriet, C. & Price, H. L. (2014). Change blindness and eyewitness identification: Effects on accuracy and confidence. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 21(1), 189-201
  2. Simons, D. J., Ambinder, M. S. (2005). Change blindness. Theory and consequences. Current Directions in Psychological Science 14(1), 44-48
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Change Blindness and Eyewitness Identification