Post-identification Feedback to Eyewitnesses: Implications for System Variable Reform

  • Amy Bradfield DouglassEmail author
  • Laura Smalarz
Part of the Advances in Psychology and Law book series (APL, volume 4)


Eyewitness memory can be distorted by simple comments received after an identification decision is made. When these comments suggest that the identification decision was correct, they inflate witnesses’ recollections of how confident they were, how good their view was, and other testimony-relevant judgments. This post-identification feedback effect is a robust phenomenon with significant implications for judging the reliability of eyewitness evidence. For example, research showing particularly powerful effects of feedback on witnesses who have made mistaken decisions presents a significant risk to wrongly identified people. In the current chapter, we begin with an overview of 20 years of research on the feedback effect. Next, we analyze how feedback research has factored into two recent state supreme court decisions and a U.S. Supreme Court decision. After reviewing the court decisions, we discuss the potential for feedback research to both strengthen and refine system variable reforms as outlined in the 2017 Department of Justice memorandum on eyewitness identification procedures. Finally, we present future research suggestions including the imperative to study how feedback might emerge in new ways (e.g., through witnesses’ own “investigations” using social media).


Post-identification feedback Eyewitness decisions Confidence malleability Retrospective confidence 



We thank the Bates College Summer Research Apprentice Program and Paola Herrera for assistance in preparing this chapter. Portions of work on this chapter were supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. SES-1627433 to Amy Douglass and Neil Brewer. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bates CollegeLewistonUSA
  2. 2.Williams CollegeWilliamstownUSA

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