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Witnesses’ memory for events and faces under elevated levels of intoxication

Journal article
Authors Christopher Altman
Nadja Schreiber Compo
Dawn McQuiston
Angelica Hagsand
Jiselle Cervera
Published in Memory
Volume 26
Issue 7
Pages 946-959
ISSN 0965-8211
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Psychology
Pages 946-959
Language en
Keywords alcohol, witnesses, memory, lineup, interview, high blood alcohol concentration, field, bar
Subject categories Psychology, Applied Psychology


Research on alcohol and witness memory has burgeoned over the last decade. However, most studies have tested participants at relatively low breath alcohol concentration (BAC) levels, unrepresentative of those encountered by officers in the field. To examine how higher intoxication levels might impair witness memory for events and faces, the current research tested participants’ ability to recall a mock crime at elevated BAC levels (>.08%). The BAC levels of bar patrons (N = 138) were recorded before witnessing a video-taped mock crime. Participants were then interviewed using free recall and cued questions and shown a six-person target-present or target-absent lineup. Results show that alcohol negatively affected both the quantity and quality of recall. Regardless of question format, alcohol also reduced the percentage of accurate information elicited from witnesses; however, only cued questions increased the percentage of inaccurate information reported. Intoxication had no effect on identification accuracy. These findings suggest that the encoding and storage systems for faces and events may be impacted differently by alcohol. Our results also highlight the importance of including higher BAC levels when examining the effects of alcohol on witness memory.

Page Manager: Webmaster|Last update: 9/11/2012

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