Does exposure to facial composites damage eyewitness memory? A comprehensive review

Siegfried L. Sporer*, Colin G. Tredoux, Annelies Vredeveldt, Kate Kempen, Alicia Nortje

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Eyewitnesses often create face likenesses, which are published in the hope that potential suspects will be reported to the police. Witnesses exposed to another witness's composite, however, may be positively or negatively influenced by such composites. A good likeness may facilitate identification, but a bad likeness that resembles an innocent suspect may lead to a misidentification (“mix-up”). We offer a theoretical review, and comprehensively summarize extant studies descriptively because most studies did not report enough statistical details to warrant a formal meta-analysis. Some studies showed negative exposure effects, particularly when the innocent suspect and composite shared misleading features. Studies that exposed witnesses to “good” composites reported positive or no effects on lineup performance, and some highly powered studies also showed no effect. We outline suggestions for further investigations under ecologically valid conditions. We also make recommendations for investigative practice, and the evaluation of identification evidence by fact finders or courts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1166-1179
Number of pages14
JournalApplied Cognitive Psychology
Issue number5
Early online date9 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020


This research was supported by a grant to Siegfried L. Sporer on ?Recognizing Faces of Other Ethnic Groups? by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Science Foundation: Grant Nr. Sp272/9-1). Collection of articles, data coding and preliminary analyses were supported by a joint grant to Colin G. Tredoux and Siegfried L. Sporer on ?Reducing False Identifications of Other-race People through new Computer Techniques? (SUA 07/028) by the National Research Foundation of South Africa and the Deutsche Zentrum f?r Luft- und Raumfahrt des Bundesministerium f?r Bildung und Forschung (German Ministry of Science and Education). Finally, the article was made possible with the support from the South African Centre for Digital Language Resources (SADiLaR). SADiLaR is a research infrastructure established by the Department of Science and Technology of the South African government as part of the South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap (SARIR).

FundersFunder number
Deutsche Zentrum f?r Luft
Deutsche Zentrum für Luft‐ und Raumfahrt des Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung
South African Centre for Digital Language Resources
National Research Foundation
Deutsche ForschungsgemeinschaftSp272/9‐1, SUA 07/028
Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung


    • eyewitness identification
    • eyewitness recall
    • face composites
    • misinformation effect


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