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Convicting with confidence? Why we should not over-rely on eyewitness confidence


Eyewitness memory researchers have recently devoted considerable attention to eyewitness confidence. While there is strong consensus that courtroom confidence is problematic, we now recognise that an eyewitness's initial confidence in their first identification - in certain contexts - can be of value. A few psychological scientists, however, have confidently, but erroneously claimed that in real-world cases, eyewitness initial confidence is the most important indicator of eyewitness accuracy, trumping all other factors that might exist in a case. This claim accompanies an exaggeration of the role of eyewitnesses' "initial confidence" in the DNA exoneration cases. Still worse, overstated claims about the confidence-accuracy relationship, and eyewitness memory, have reached our top scientific journals, news articles, and criminal cases. To set the record straight, we review what we actually know and do not know about the "initial confidence" of eyewitnesses in the DNA exoneration cases. Further reasons for skepticism about the value of the confidence-accuracy relationship in real-world cases come from new analyses of a separate database, the National Registry of Exonerations. Finally, we review new research that reveals numerous conditions wherein eyewitnesses with high initial confidence end up being wrong.

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