Eliot Circular

Your Lying Eyes

Photo by Darryl James

The criminal justice system often relies on the testimony of eyewitnesses to get convictions. Yet more and more, psychological science demonstrates how unreliable eyewitness reports can be. Moreover, jurors have all kinds of cognitive biases and unconscious influences, and they rely on dubious folk psychological theories when assessing evidence. 

So, how should psychological science be used to improve our justice system? Is there a way to figure out whether a particular eyewitness report is reliable? Or for a truly just system, must we forbid all testimony that depends on the capricious faculty of memory?

The NPR show Philosophy Talk came to Reed last year to pose these questions to Prof. Daniel Reisberg [psychology 1986–], a nationally-recognized expert on eyewitness testimony and author of The Science of Perception and Memory: A Pragmatic Guide for the Justice System and scores of other scholarly books and articles. Check out the broadcast at www.philosophytalk.org.