The ageing eyewitness

  • November 6, 2012
The ageing eyewitness

A Gates Cambridge Scholar who is studying eyewitness psychology has won The Manuel Lopez-Rey Prize for her MPhil in criminological research.

A Gates Cambridge Scholar who is studying eyewitness psychology has won The Manuel Lopez-Rey Prize for her MPhil in criminological research.

Katrin Pfeil [2012], who has just begun her PhD, shares the prize with a criminology student. It is awarded by the Department of Criminology at the University of Cambridge for outstanding performance.

Her research focuses on ways to improve the testimony and identification performance of older adult witnesses (60 years and over).

She says that relatively little is known about older witnesses despite the fact that our ageing society means there is likely to be an increase in older adults being witnesses of crimes.

She states: “Bearing in mind older adults’ memory decline, and the fact that they generally tend to perform poorer both in terms of testimony and person identification compared to young adults, it is most important to get further insights into enhancement strategies of their witness performance.”

For her MPhil research she examined the impact of circadian rhythm as a possibility to aid older adults’ person identification performance. She found that a procedure as easy as scheduling the ID session according to the older person’s optimal time of day significantly improved their identification performance, which meant they made significantly more correct identifications when the perpetrator was in the line-up.

More importantly they also made significantly fewer false identifications in target absent line-ups, i.e. when the perpetrator was in fact not among the photographs. Katrin says this is especially important to prevent wrongful convictions.

She states: “Being awarded the Lopez-Rey Graduate Prize to me shows that my research is meaningful and supports me in continuing research in that area during my PhD.”

Picture credit: Ambro and www.freedigitalphotos.net

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