F. Bedford, Ph.D. Cross-racial Eyewitness Identification 


 Jump to Other Race Effect


Dr. Bedford has consulted as an expert witness for several years on eye witness identification and perception issues.  A number of cases have involved cross-racial identification. Others include weapon misidentification, faulty line-ups, and classic mistaken identity. Felice Bedford, Ph.D., is a professor at the University of Arizona Psychology Department and received her education at the prestigious Psychology Department of the University of Pennsylvania. Attorneys she has worked with in Arizona include Anthony Payson, Thomas Jacobs, Tomas Hippart, Brian Metcalf, Chuck LaGrand, Christopher Shank, Walter Gonclaves, Roger Sigal, and Eric Rau.  Dr. Bedford is the author of the book All cab drivers look alike: The science of changing perception through experience (2013, Tivoli Press) and has published numerous scholarly articles in academic journals. She also conducts experiments and gives lectures in multiple areas of perception, including cross-racial face recognition. Her website is www.u.arizona.edu/~bedford  and her research expertise is perceptual learning.


The Other Race Effect refers to the greater difficulty people have in distinguishing between members of a different race compared to one's own race: "They all look alike". The effect is NOT:


The Other Race Effect presents a major problem when trying to identify a suspect in a crime when the suspect is from a different racial group. However, people are often unaware that they lack the recognition ability and falsely identify an innocent person - and have complete certainty that they are right when in fact they are not.

Consider an example of identical twins. If you didn't know there were 2 individuals, you would easily misidentify one for the other. You would have every confidence that you had identified the right person - but you would be wrong. That is often what it feels like to try to identify an individual from another racial group.

So WHY does it occur?

Consider now 2 wines that you cannot distinguish from one another, but your wine-tasting expert friend can. Like with wine tasting, and every other perceptual task one can think of, you must become a perceptual expert through practice and experience. You learn to do this with faces that you are exposed to every day, and it does not transfer to faces from different groups. Faces consist of hundreds of potential features, or dimensions, or schemas. Only subtle aspects distinguish one person from another - after all, everyone has eyes, a nose, a mouth and so on. You unconsciously learn the subtle features that you need to distinguish one person from another through extensive practice - perceptual discrimination learning - but the features you learn will not be the same features that distinguish individuals of another race, and therefore will be useless for that task.

The perceptual learning that is involved is part of a general area in perception that deals with the effects of experience on perception, the primary focus of my research programs.

The implications of the Other Race Effect can be catastrophic in courtrooms. Many people are convicted solely on the basis of an earnest witness who has misidentified a suspect from another race.

 NEED MORE? Get the book All cab drivers look alike: The science of changing perception through experience (2013, Tivoli Press). Amazon  Barnes & Noble

Bedford Main Page

Send inquiries to bedford@u.arizona.edu