Reasons to doubt the reliability of eyewitness memory: Commentary on Wixted, Mickes, and Fisher (2018)

Kimberley A. Wade, Robert A. Nash, D. Stephen Lindsay

Research output: Contribution to journalLetter, comment/opinion or interviewpeer-review


Wixted, Mickes, and Fisher (this issue) take issue with the common trope that eyewitness memory is inherently unreliable. They draw on a large body of mock-crime research and a small number of field studies, which indicate that high-confidence eyewitness reports are usually accurate, at least when memory is uncontaminated and suitable interviewing procedures are used. We agree with the thrust of Wixted et al.’s argument and welcome their invitation to confront the mass underselling of eyewitnesses’ potential reliability. Nevertheless, we argue that there is a comparable risk of overselling eyewitnesses’ reliability. Wixted et al.’s reasoning implies that near-pristine conditions or uncontaminated memories are normative, but there are at least two good reasons to doubt this. First, psychological science does not yet offer a good understanding of how often and when eyewitness interviews might deviate from best practice in ways that compromise the accuracy of witnesses’ reports. Second, witnesses may frequently be exposed to preinterview influences that could corrupt reports obtained in best-practice interviews.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)339-342
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2018

Bibliographical note

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  • application
  • law
  • memory


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