Eyewitness accounts flawed

Soldiers engaged in survival training had trouble identifying people they encountered during threatening and stressful events, according to a Yale study published this Spring in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry.

“Contrary to the popular concept that most people would never forget the face of a clearly seen individual who had physically confronted them and threatened them for more than 30 minutes, a large number of subjects in this study were unable to correctly identify their perpetrator,” said Charles A. Morgan III, M.D., associate clinical professor of psychiatry.

Morgan studied more than 500 soldiers who were subjected to stress modeled after the experiences of prisoners of war. For 48 hours prior to questioning, they were deprived of food and sleep. Asked to identify their guard and interrogator a day later, those who experienced less stressful interrogations had better recognition.

“The present data have a number of implications for law enforcement personnel, mental health professionals, physicians, attorneys and judges,” Morgan said.

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