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eyewitness identification, weapon focus effect, unusualness hypothesis, confidence and accuracy


The weapon focus effect (WFE) occurs when a weapon distracts eyewitnesses, harming memory for the perpetrator and other details. One explanation is that weapons are unusual in most contexts, and unusual objects distract eyewitnesses. We extended this unusualness hypothesis to include typical objects used in a distinctive manner, as criminals often make use of a typical object as a weapon (e.g., tire iron, beer bottle). Undergraduates (N = 963) viewed a video depicting a man with a handgun, distinctive object, typical object and action, or typical object used as a weapon. Only the handgun reduced eyewitness identification accuracy relative to the typical object and action, replicating the WFE. Importantly, participants who reported high confidence after choosing from a lineup tended to be highly accurate, regardless of condition.


Originally published as:

Carlson, C. A., Pleasant, W. E., Weatherford, D. R., Carlson, M. A., & Bednarz, J. E. (2016). The weapon focus effect: Testing an extension of the unusualness hypothesis [Electronic Version]. Applied Psychology in Criminal Justice, 12(2), 87-100.

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