Memory & Cognition

, Volume 47, Issue 3, pp 428–440 | Cite as

Developmental trends in lineup performance: Adolescents are more prone to innocent bystander misidentifications than children and adults

  • Nathalie BrackmannEmail author
  • Melanie Sauerland
  • Henry Otgaar


We tested developmental trends in eyewitness identification in biased and unbiased lineups. Our main interest was adolescent’s lineup performance compared with children and adults. 7–10-year-olds, 11–13-year-olds, 14–16-year-olds, and adults (N = 431) watched a wallet-theft-video and subsequently identified the thief, victim, and witness from simultaneous target-present and target-absent six-person photo lineups. The thief-absent lineup included a bystander previously seen in thief proximity. Research on unconscious transference suggested a selection bias toward the bystander in adults and 11–13-year-olds, but not in younger children. Confirming our hypothesis, adolescents were more prone to bystander bias than all other age groups. This may be due to adolescents making more inferential errors than children, as predicted by fuzzy-trace theory and associative-activation theory, combined with lower inhibition control in adolescents compared with adults. We also replicated a clothing bias for all age groups and age-related performance differences in our unbiased lineups. Consistent with previous findings, participants were generally overconfident in their decisions, even though confidence was a better predictor of accuracy in older compared with younger participants. With this study, we show that adolescents have an increased tendency to misidentify an innocent bystander. Continued efforts are needed to disentangle how adolescents in comparison to other age groups perform in forensically relevant situations.


Identification performance Unconscious transference Child witnesses Adolescent witnesses Clothing bias Confidence–accuracy relationship 


Author note

Nathalie Brackmann, Section Forensic Psychology, Department of Clinical Psychological Science, Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, Maastricht University, the Netherlands, and Department of Psychology, Gothenburg University, Sweden; Melanie Sauerland, Department of Clinical Psychological Science, Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, Maastricht University, the Netherlands; Henry Otgaar, Department of Clinical Psychological Science, Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, Maastricht University, the Netherlands, and Department of Psychology, City University London, UK.

Nathalie Brackmann is now working at University Hospital of Psychiatry Zurich, Switzerland.

This paper has been supported by a fellowship from the Erasmus Mundus Joint Doctorate Programme in Legal Psychology (EMJD-LP; 2013-1438/001-001-EMII-EMJD) to Nathalie Brackmann. We want to thank Anne Lausberg, Wenke Müller, Britta Schumacher, Thijs Willems, and Hanna Egert for their help in piloting the materials and collecting the data.


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nathalie Brackmann
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Melanie Sauerland
    • 1
  • Henry Otgaar
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Maastricht UniversityMaastrichtthe Netherlands
  2. 2.University of GothenburgGothenburgSweden
  3. 3.University Hospital of Psychiatry ZurichRheinauSwitzerland
  4. 4.City, University of LondonLondonUK

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