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Eye-Witness Accuracy

December 27, 2011

Tracking witnesses’ eye movements may help reveal what they’ve really seen.



Improving eye-witness accuracy…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Juries often depend on the testimony of so-called eye-witnesses to identify suspects. But our memory for faces is notoriously inaccurate, which can sometimes lead to wrongful convictions. A new study suggests that eye-movements may be a better indicator of what witnesses have actually seen. Cognitive neuroscientist Debbie Hannula of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and her team showed volunteers pictures of faces. Later, they were shown some of those faces again, mixed in with new faces. As expected, the participants often incorrectly thought they’d seen some of the new faces before. But their eye movements revealed something different.


And what we find is that eye movements are drawn very rapidly to a studied face.

So even when participants think they’ve seen a face previously, their eye movements tell us a different story about what people have encountered in the past.


I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.