Brian Cutler Discusses Eyewitness Testimony/Psychology of Law

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    • 00:04

      [How would you define the field of psychology and law,and how does eyewitness testimony fit within it?]

    • 00:10

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD: Let me tell youa little bit about psychology and law.[Brian Cutler, PhD, Associate Dean and Professor,University of Ontario Institute of Technology]Psychology and law is a relatively new field.It represents the application of psychology to the legal system.It draws on all areas of psychology--the traditional pillars of cognitive, social,developmental, clinical, and biological psychology--

    • 00:35

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: and it applies to virtually all areas of law-- criminal law,civil law, and family law.It represents both a science and a practice.So within the area of science, psychologists regularlyconduct research on legal issues,publish their research in psychological and legal

    • 00:57

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: journals.There are specifically scientific journals devotedto psychology and law research.Psychologists also practice within the legal arena.Clinical psychologists may conduct assessmentsfor the court, may be involved in treatmentof criminal offenders.

    • 01:19

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: Psychologists also testify as expert witnesses in cases.Eyewitness testimony is a subfield of psychology and law.It's the application of social and cognitive psychologyto criminal cases involving eyewitnesses.Eyewitnesses play a prominent role in solving cases,

    • 01:45

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: but we know from basic research on human memoryand social influences that eyewitnesses are not alwayscorrect and are prone to make mistakes,particularly given the circumstancesunder which crimes often occur.So there's been a great deal of psychological research devotedto the psychology of eyewitness memory.

    • 02:08

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: [What first inspired you to start research in the fieldof eyewitness testimony?]I became inspired by research in eyewitness testimonyand psychology and law in general in the early 1980s.I was a graduate student in a master's program.At that time, psychology and law was really a very new field.

    • 02:30

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: The journal Law and Human Behavior,which is a prominent psychology and law journal,just started being published.There were some new books out on psychologyof eyewitness memory, new book outon psychology of the courtroom.I was at a place in time where I could

    • 02:51

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: explore different areas of psychologyand find something that really interested me, and this was it.I started reading about it.I took a graduate class in psychology and law.I had a couple of professors who were very interested in it,and I just immediately became very passionateabout it decided to pursue further graduate education

    • 03:11

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: in this area.So I applied for doctoral programsspecifically at universities thathad researchers doing psychology and law research,and I never looked back.It was a great choice, and I'm stillvery excited and passionate about it.[Which key thinkers have inspired you,and who continues to influence you?]

    • 03:32

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: There were many key thinkers who inspired me at the time,and they continue to inspire me.Most of them are still active.They include Steven Penrod, who was my graduate adviser,Elizabeth Loftus, Gary Wells, Saul Kassin, Larry Wrightsman,

    • 03:54

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: who is now retired.These were prominent players when I became interestedin the area, and most of them continueto contribute actively to the field of psychology and law.[Which key works have most inspired you?]

    • 04:14

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: The key works that really drew me into the fieldwere the early publications.I recall discovering the journal Lawand Human Behavior when I was a graduate student in, say, 1983.At the time, this was pre-internet.

    • 04:35

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: I discovered it by reading references, articlesand reference lists from journal articles.Our library didn't have this journal.I drove to a university about 25 miles awaythat had the journal, and I photocopied every articleof every issue that had been published to that point,

    • 04:56

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: and I took them home and read them all.There was also a book that was publishedin 1982 called The Psychology of the Courtroom.It was edited by Kerr and Bray, and that book greatlyinspired me.[How has the field of psychology and law changed in recent

    • 05:17

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: years, and what developments do you consider most significant?]The field of psychology and law reallygot started in the late 1970s.It was started by a relatively small group of scholarswho founded the American Psychology Law Society,and the topics of research at the timewere relatively small and relatively narrow.

    • 05:42

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: What changed over time really is the popularity of the field.So I wasn't at the first few conferences,but when the American Psychology Law Society, which is reallythe heart of psychology and law research began,there were conferences every other yearwith maybe 100 people.

    • 06:07

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: Now there are annual conferences with about 1,000 researchersand practitioners.There's many more people involved, much more researchgoing on, much greater variety of topicsof psychological research.So I don't think there was any one watershed moment thatchanged the field, but it was more natural growth over time

    • 06:31

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: due to the popularity of the field.[Are there any major academic debates in the fieldof psychology and law?What are the principal areas of contention?]There are always areas of contention and areasof debate within psychology and law.In the area of clinical forensic psychology,

    • 06:51

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: there are debates about the methodsused for psychological assessment in legal cases.Within the area of eyewitness testimony,there are debates about the research, about, for example,

    • 07:12

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: what are the best ways to conductphoto arrays in lineups.Debate and contention is really partof every scientific enterprise, and the sciencebenefits from alternative viewpointsand challenging research questions,

    • 07:32

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: challenging theories and beliefs, and the areaof psychology and law, and eyewitness memoryin particular, benefits from this typeof challenge and debate.So for example, within the area of eyewitness identification,there have been several review papersthat have reached the conclusion that presenting photo

    • 07:54

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: arrays sequentially-- really justa relatively minor change in how the photos are presentedto a witness-- reduces the risk of false identifications ascompared to presenting them simultaneously,the traditional way that photo arrays have been presented.So these review papers have reached the conclusion

    • 08:15

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: that you can reduce the risk of a false identification,but not greatly reduce positive identificationswithout much loss to positive identifications.That conclusion has been challenged in research,and it continues to be challenged.

    • 08:36

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: So there are new studies comparingsimultaneous and sequential presentation,and then new review papers that reassess the literature.[What new research directions do you find most exciting,and where would you like to take your own research?]With respect to exciting directions for research,

    • 08:60

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: perhaps the biggest shift in researchcame with the publication of an articleby Gary Wells in the late 1970s whereWells made a distinction between what we call in the researchestimator and system variables.

    • 09:21

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: Estimator variables are variablesover which the criminal justice system has no control.They refer to the conditions under which the crime occurred.So a witness views a robbery, and estimator variablescould be for how long the witness had

    • 09:42

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: to view the perpetrator, the race of the perpetrator,the race of the witness, was there a weapon present,the amount of stress experienced by the witness.These are important factors.We don't have any control over them.They are what they are, and with thatif we know what those factors arewe can use that information to tryto estimate the accuracy of eyewitness identification.

    • 10:05

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: That's fine, but it doesn't give usa lot of information for how to improve the system.So Wells talked about estimator variables,and he also talked about system variables.System variables are those variablesover which we have control.System variables would refer to how a witness is interviewed,

    • 10:29

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: or how a photo array is constructed and presentedto the witness.Wells suggested that research focus on system variablesbecause we have control over them.We can use information about system variablesto change criminal justice practices

    • 10:49

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: as a way of reducing the risk of false identificationand perhaps increasing the likelihoodof correct identification, and that articlewas influential and created a shift in the research.There continued to be research and should continueto be research on estimator variables,but much more emphasis was placed on the system variables,

    • 11:10

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: and as a result, we've learned a great dealabout how to best interview witnessesand how to best construct photo arrays in line ups.So that was an influential paper that effected trendsearly on, so more recent trends in research--

    • 11:34

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: the emphasis on system variables remains today,and that's still a very important trend in research.We've learned a great deal about how to conduct photo arraysand lineups and how to interview witnesses,but there's much more to learn in this respect.So that's still an important and exciting trend in the research.

    • 11:58

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: Another exciting trend is the emphasis on wrongful convictionthat has developed since the mid 1990s, reallysince the invention of DNA evidence,and we have learned a lot more about the role of eyewitnessidentification in wrongful conviction,

    • 12:20

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: and we're starting to see more research specificallyon wrongful conviction cases, and that is an exciting trend.In my own area, I have been very interestedand influenced by the research on interrogation and falseconfessions, which is another area of research

    • 12:44

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: within psychology and law that has become veryimportant and very popular.What we've learned from that researchis that the modern interrogation processesthat are used with criminal suspects are very persuasive.They're designed to be persuasive,and they are persuasive-- so persuasive that, in some cases,

    • 13:07

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: we find that innocent people falsely confess to crimesthat they did not commit.So how is this relevant eyewitness identification--or eyewitness memory?It turns out that, in some cases,these same interrogation practicesthat are used with suspects are used with eyewitnesses.

    • 13:30

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: They may be used in situations in which an investigatorbelieves that an eye witness is withholding the truth or lying,and they are used to try to persuade a witnessto tell the truth.Well, that's fine if a witness is withholding informationor lying, but in some cases, the witness

    • 13:52

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: might be telling the truth, and the effect of this persuasionattempt is to get the witness to changethe testimony from the truth to what's not the truth.So in my own research, based on a casethat I was involved with, we developed this idea

    • 14:15

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: that through interrogation practices usedwith eyewitnesses it's possible to actually elicitfalse accusations.So we spent a year conducting a laboratory study in which wefound that a significant portion of eyewitnesses-- not suspects,

    • 14:37

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: but eyewitnesses-- falsely accusedanother student of a theft based on the waywe interrogated them.So the interrogation procedures had the effectof increasing the risk of false accusations from eyewitnesses.

    • 14:57

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: So this is a trend that excites me,and I could see conducting further research on this topic.[Drawing from your own research, what are the reasons a witnessmight give a false accusation?]So there are various reasons why witnesseswhen interviewed with these coercive practiceswould give false accusations.

    • 15:22

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: Being interrogated is stressful, and under these circumstances,because this is a witness and not a suspect,the witness has not been read her rights,is not told she's entitled to have advice of counsel.She's there as a cooperative witness.

    • 15:44

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: She can actually leave any time, but the witness typicallywants to cooperate with the police.We all want to cooperate with the police,so the witness stays.These coercive interview practices are stressful.Under highly stressful conditions--

    • 16:05

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: stressful conditions don't improvethe quality of our thinking.They detract from the quality of our thinking.We find that generally when peopleare under stress, specifically the stress associatedwith custodial interrogation, they

    • 16:26

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: are susceptible to social influence.They are responsive to incentives, and reward,and punishment.Decades of psychological researchhas taught us that people are responsive to rewardand punishment.So in these situations, the witnessmight be overtly threatened with legal consequences

    • 16:48

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: for not telling the truth.Witnesses are responsive to that.In interrogation, the witness is isolated,and that makes us on uncomfortable,so there's a desire to get out of this situation,

    • 17:08

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: and unlike the suspect, who under interrogation isencouraged to confess and to implicate himself,the witness, by changing her testimony,is cooperating with the police.So there's a possible gain without any negative

    • 17:32

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: consequences to oneself.So all of these psychological factorscan combine to encourage a witnessto change her testimony.[Can you provide any examples of key research in the fieldof eyewitness testimony that has had a direct impact on the workof practitioners outside of academia,and what changed as a result?]Psychological research on eyewitness testimony

    • 17:53

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: had been plugging along fairly consistentlyin the 1970s and 1980s.In the 1990s, some changes happenedin the criminal justice system that really drew attentionto the psychological research, and drewthe psychological research into practice.Attorney General at the time, Janet Reno

    • 18:16

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: had commissioned a group of psychologists, police officers,prosecutors, and defense attorneysto review practices related to eyewitness memoryin recognition of what we were learning-- that eyewitness

    • 18:37

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: identification played a prominent role in knowncases of wrongful conviction.Since that time, the working groupdeveloped guidelines for collecting eyewitness evidencein the form of interviewing eyewitnesses and eyewitness

    • 19:01

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: identification tests, show ups, photo arrays, and live lineups.That was the first set of best practicesin collecting eyewitness evidence.Within a few years, the state of New Jerseywas the first to wholesale change

    • 19:22

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: its eyewitness identification practicesin light of the psychological research.They made sweeping changes that affected law enforcementin the state.Around that time, other police departments in other stateswere also reviewing the research and changing their procedures,and it really began a wave of reform in the US

    • 19:45

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: and elsewhere regarding eyewitness identificationprocedure.So other states-- North Carolina, Wisconsinhad also changed their procedures,and other states since then have changed their procedures,and police departments within other stateshave modified their procedures in ways

    • 20:08

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: that are really consistent with the researchand obviously drawn from the research.So we see direct impact of the research that'sbeen conducted on eyewitness identificationon contemporary criminal justice practices today.[Are there any classic or seemingly 'untouchable' studiesin this field that have been reevaluated in light of recentacademic developments?]There have been some key studies or key literature reviews

    • 20:34

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: that have been influential in influencingnot only the science of eyewitness memory,but how photo arrays and lineups are conducted in practice.We tend not to think of key studies,because any one study, no matter how good it is,

    • 20:55

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: is just one study.We tend to rely on meta analyses.Meta analyses are sophisticated quantitative reviewsof sets of studies, and meta analysisis a powerful way of reaching a general conclusion

    • 21:17

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: about the effect of a given variable on eyewitnessidentification.So for example, if there are 20 separate studieson how lineup instructions influencethe risk of false identification,a meta analysis would combine the results of those studiesto reach a general conclusion and can

    • 21:40

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: look at how the size of that effectvaries as a function of conditions of those studies.So the meta analyses tend to be far more influentialthan individual studies.They tend to be published in the better journalsand relied upon.That said, there are meta analyseson the effects of lineup instructions,

    • 22:01

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: and on whether lineups should be presented simultaneouslyor sequentially, and on various estimatorvariables such as the weapon focus effect,the effect of stress on identification accuracy.There's really a very impressive numberof meta analyses in these fields,

    • 22:22

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: but they are challenged sometimes.Meta analyses are reviews of research up to date,but they're not the end of the story.Research continues to be presented.There are studies that challenge the results of meta analysesand then down the road sometimes there

    • 22:42

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: are updated meta analyses, and I'llgive some specific examples.I talked about simultaneous and sequential presentation.There continued to be studies thatchallenged the meta analytic conclusion that sequentially

    • 23:06

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: presented photo arrays are overallsuperior to simultaneously presented photo arrays,but there are continually new studies thatchallenge that conclusion, and these challengesare part of the scientific enterpriseand good for the research.[What are the practical benefits of studying the fieldof psychology and law for a student's academic

    • 23:27

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: or professional future?]The study of psychology and law hasa number of benefits to students academically andprofessionally.To begin with, it's fascinating.We find it much easier to delve into, and study,and write about topics that are interesting than topics

    • 23:47

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: that don't interest us.So I've been conducting psychology and law researchfirst as a graduate student and then a faculty membersince the 1980s, and I've never had a problemfinding students interested in my research.

    • 24:08

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: I've always been able to assemble a team of studentsto help out, serve as research assistants,and they benefit from that kind of hands on experiencein the research.And part of what draws students to the fieldis that it's very interesting.

    • 24:29

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: You can see the obvious implicationsof that research for what happens today,and people are very interested in crime and law enforcement.We know this because of all the media attentionto crime, the TV shows and movies associated with crime.So it's interesting, and students

    • 24:51

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: get excited about studying it.It has become part of the curriculum in many psychologydepartments not as a required course,but many students have the optionof taking a course in psychology and law.So it's a way of fulfilling their course requirementsfor their degree.

    • 25:13

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: As a field of graduate study, it offersseveral interesting professional options.So the field of psychology and lawoffers several different professional paths,which include practicing within the criminal justice

    • 25:33

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: system as a psychologist or conductingresearch and teaching psychology and lawin academic institutions.[What would you identify as the key challenges of a coursein this field for a student, and what strategies would youadvise to counter these challenges?]The field of psychology and law-- I'm

    • 25:54

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: not sure it offers any challenges to students that areunique to psychology and law.There are challenges associated with studyingany field of psychology.The requirements for admission to graduate programs

    • 26:16

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: can be steep.The time to degree can be long.The work is his painstaking and difficult. There is attrition.Some students enter graduate programsand for a variety of reasons can't finish them.

    • 26:40

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: I don't think the challenges are any greater or lessin psychology and law.[How do you think about the public impact of your ownresearch and how do you assess the contribution of eyewitnesstestimony research to society or the judicial system?]My own research has had some contributionto how eyewitness evidence is collectedwithin the criminal justice system.I have contributed to the field original research on lineup

    • 27:04

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: instructions, on simultaneous versus sequential presentation,on the use of what we call double blind lineups.My research together with researchconducted by other eyewitness researchershave collectively had an impact on these practices.

    • 27:28

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: There are other ways in which my research and others' researchhave impacted practice.In addition to actually affecting the way that lineupsare conducted in cases involving eyewitness identification,the research has found itself before the courts

    • 27:50

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: in other ways.So for example, I have been an expert witnessin many cases involving eyewitness identification.I'm typically brought in by the defense.My role is to educate the jury about how memory works,

    • 28:11

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: about the factors that can influence eyewitnessidentification, and that would includehow the conditions under which the crime occurredmay have influenced an eyewitness's memory,and how photo arrays and lineups are conducted,and how those procedures can influence eyewitness memory.

    • 28:33

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: In each case, my testimony is basedon the psychological research on eyewitness memory.We don't give opinions about the accuracy of eyewitnesses.Our role is really to educate the juryso that they can make better decisions about eyewitnessmemory, and I am just one person whogives this kind of testimony.

    • 28:53

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: There are other psychologist researcherswho testify in these sorts of cases as well.So that's yet another way in whichpsychological research on eyewitness memoryhas an impact on everyday justice.[Where do you see the field of psychology and law headingin the next several years, and what are your hopesfor the future?]

    • 29:16

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: I don't see major changes in trends and researchon eyewitness memory.The field remains of great interest to students,of great interest to researchers.There seems to be a steady streamof new researchers interested in eyewitness memory.

    • 29:37

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: There are publications on the topicall the time, so it remains strongand consistently near the top of the list of popular topicsin psychology law research, and this is a good thing.We don't know everything we need to know

    • 29:58

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: about the psychology of eyewitness identificationor eyewitness memory.So my hopes for the field are that the topic continuesto remain popular among students,draws in new students who have new ideasand who can educate all of us, both researchers

    • 30:20

      BRIAN CUTLER, PHD [continued]: and practitioners.

Brian Cutler Discusses Eyewitness Testimony/Psychology of Law

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Professor Brian Cutler discusses his work in the field of psychology and law, particularly in relation to eyewitness testimony. Despite popular opinion, eyewitness testimony is not always reliable. Professor Cutler explains how stress, memory, and coercive interviewing techniques can interact to produce false identifications.

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Brian Cutler Discusses Eyewitness Testimony/Psychology of Law

Professor Brian Cutler discusses his work in the field of psychology and law, particularly in relation to eyewitness testimony. Despite popular opinion, eyewitness testimony is not always reliable. Professor Cutler explains how stress, memory, and coercive interviewing techniques can interact to produce false identifications.

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