Inconsistencies between Law and the Limits of Human Cognition

Deborah Davis and Elizabeth F. Loftus

in Memory and Law

Published in print July 2012 | ISBN: 9780199920754
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199950133 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Series in Neuroscience, Law, and Philosophy

Inconsistencies between Law and the Limits of Human Cognition

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This chapter considers the issue of whether the legal system assumes greater accuracy in the production and assessment of eyewitness identifications than the limits of cognition reasonably permit. It first reviews what is known about the limits of accuracy in eyewitness performance under optimal conditions, and the ease with which this maximum performance can be compromised by common real life witnessing conditions. Evidence is reviewed that, even under optimal conditions, witness accuracy does not reach standards of certainty beyond reasonable doubt. Discussion then turns to the problems faced by those who must judge witness accuracy, including: inadequacies in knowledge of determinants of face processing and memory accuracy; selective access to information relevant to factors known to affect witness accuracy; inadequacies of safeguards such as cross-examination of witnesses, and others. Implications for reforms in treatment of eyewitness evidence are discussed.

Keywords: eyewitness; memory; judging; witness accuracy; admissibility; limits of cognition; reform

Chapter.  13065 words. 

Subjects: Neuropsychology

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