Unconscious transference : an investigation of eyewitness identification errors
The thesis investigates the unconscious transference phenomenon which has been implicated in cases of mistaken identity. When an eyewitness to a crime misidentifies an innocent, but previously encountered person as the perpetrator in response to a lineup which does not include culprit, it has been speculated that the eyewitness confuses the two people by transferring their identities across contexts. This traditional definition of unconscious transference was investigated in one of two experiments. A videotaped, staged theft scenario was shown to 770 participant witnesses who attempted to identify the perpetrator from a photographic lineup. Those who viewed an innocent bystander prior to the crime scenario, were more likely to mistake that familiar person for the perpetrator when the latter was absent from the lineup, compared to control participants who were not shown the bystander. Bystander misidentifications obtained indicate that transference did occur. A significant minority of participants consciously inferred that the bystander and the perpetrator were the same person seen in different settings. Others realised that the two confederates were different individuals but misattributed the source of their memories. In a second experiment, evidence of another type of unconscious transference, characterised as a commitment effect, was obtained. Three months after the initial lineup, a second lineup administered to 505 participants from the first investigation indicated that an innocent person initially misidentified is likely to continue to be misidentified even if he/she was unfamiliar to the eyewitness prior to his photograph being shown. Further, a repeat misidentification is likely even when the perpetrator is included in the subsequent lineup. Cognitive mechanisms implicated in the transference effects include some monitoring and memory blending. However, relative judgements, demand characteristics and changes of presentation media were also implicated. The ramifications for forensic eyewitness situations are such that unconscious transference demands increased attention from eyewitness researchers.