The Curious Complexity between Confidence and Accuracy in Reports from Memory

Henry L. Roediger III, John H. Wixted and K. Andrew Desoto

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

The Curious Complexity between Confidence and Accuracy in Reports from Memory

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The reliability of confident eyewitness evidence is critical for the legal system, but conflicting evidence exists on the relation of confidence and accuracy in reports from memory. This chapter reviews four methods (and a fifth hybrid method) used to address this issue, and the chapter surveys evidence obtained by each method. Both positive correlations and zero correlations can be obtained between confidence and accuracy; in fact, a negative correlation between confidence and accuracy is possible in certain circumstances (when people are asked to judge events similar to the one originally viewed). Despite this wide range of possible outcomes, it is also true that confidence and accuracy are often positively related in forensically relevant studies. However, even under those conditions, high-confidence errors can and do occur. Like other types of evidence, confidence is a useful but imperfect indicator of truth. We recommend that eyewitness testimony be considered only one (fallible) indicant of guilt. The problem of high confidence errors or false memories (demonstrated in nearly all research on the topic) makes the sole use of eyewitness testimony in adjudicating guilt too risky.

Keywords: confidence and accuracy; eyewitness memory; false memories; high confidence errors; correlation; calibration

Chapter.  15231 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Neuropsychology

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