Date of Award

5-4-2020

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Heather Offutt

Second Advisor

Lee Branum-Martin

Third Advisor

Chris Henrich

Fourth Advisor

Erin Tone

Abstract

Eyewitness memory error is the most frequent cause of wrongful conviction in the United States (The Innocence Project, 2008). Many studies have investigated causes of these misidentifications such as type of questioning, lineup presentation, and witness instructions, all which can be controlled by police procedure or laws (Wells, Memon, & Penrod, 2006). Other factors outside the control of the legal system, such as crime scene context, duration of the crime, and individual differences among individuals involved may also have effects on sentencing.

Research shows that risk for misidentification is high when an innocent suspect in a lineup looks more salient to an eyewitness than do other lineup members (Flowe & Humphries, 2011). One way in which a suspect may appear more salient in a lineup is if they possess facial features that reflect the criminal stereotype: scars, pockmarks, tattoos, long, dark, shaggy hair, prominent jaw (MacLin & Herrera, 2006; Reed & Reed, 1973). Research shows that facial appearance is not an accurate reflection of character, yet individuals continue to make character judgments based on facial features and that these judgments influence decision making (Brandt, 1980; Fiske, 1998). In the current study, I investigate the use of the criminal face stereotype in a sample of misidentified and convicted persons from the court cases indexed in the Innocence Project on-line database.

Research shows that face perception is not only a function of the face being viewed, but also of the individual perceiving the face (Hehman et al., 2017). In the current study, I test whether there are systematic differences in the perception of trait characteristics criminality, trustworthiness, and dominance as a function of conviction status (perpetrator, exonerate, filler) and features of the target face. Another factor that may affect perception is the cross-race effect (Malpass & Kravitz, 1969). The current study examines differences in facial ratings for cross-race versus same-race judgments.

Further, how perceiver characteristics relate to character judgments of others have not been fully explored. The current study will investigate whether characteristics of the perceiver, including interracial anxiety, previous victimization, and fear of future victimization are associated with facial ratings of trait impressions. These characteristics of the perceiver may be related to face judgments that pertain to an eyewitness context.

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