07 May 2014

Older eyewitnesses make mistakes in police identity parades

Older people are more likely to make mistakes in identifying suspects in police line-ups.

This is the finding of research by Dr Helen Kaye of The Open University to be presented at the British Psychological Society annual conference today, 7 May 2014, at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham.
Some 134 people (aged 22 to 66 years old) watched video footage of a mugging in which two men scuffled over a bag.

Participants were then asked to indentify suspects from two different video line-ups. In the first line-up the perpetrator was present, but in the second he was absent. In both scenarios it was made clear that the suspect may or may not be present. How confident participants were that they had identified the suspect in both line-ups was then assessed.

The results showed that older people were more likely to mistakenly identify the suspect in the second line-up, even though he was actually absent.

Dr Kaye said: “It’s interesting that older people felt more confident about their selection when they were wrong – to the point where they had imagined someone to be in the line-up who wasn’t there. As we age our accuracy as an eye-witness changes which is something police professionals should take into consideration in these circumstances.”

Full oral presentation paper title: ‘Age effects on confidence and false recognition in eye-witness identification.’
The British Psychological Society (BPS) Annual Conference takes place from 7 to 9 May 2014 at the Birmingham International Convention Centre. For details of the programme visit:

The BPS is the representative body for psychology and psychologists in the UK. It is responsible for the development, promotion and application of psychology for the public good. For more information visit

The Open University is launching a free online course on the FutureLearn platform, Forensic Psychology, which explores the fallibility of human memory, and explains why eyewitnesses can get it wrong. It gives students the chance to explore their own memories and test their own investigative abilities with an armed robbery scenario. Forensic Psychology starts on 9 June and runs for eight weeks, with students expected to complete 3 hours a week. Registration is now open.

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