Intoxicated eyewitnesses: Better than their reputation?

Law Hum Behav. 2012 Apr;36(2):77-86. doi: 10.1037/h0093951.


According to law enforcement, many witnesses are intoxicated either at the time of the crime, the interview, or both (Evans et al., Public Policy Law 15(3):194-221, 2009). However, no study to date has examined whether intoxicated witnesses' recall is different from sober witnesses' and whether they are more vulnerable to misinformation using an ecologically valid experimental design. Intoxicated, placebo, and sober witnesses observed a live, staged theft, overheard subsequent misinformation about the theft, and took part in an investigative interview. Participants generally believed they witnessed a real crime and experienced a real interview. Intoxicated witnesses were not different from placebo or sober witnesses in the number of accurate details, inaccurate details, or "don't know" answers reported. All the participants demonstrated a misinformation effect, but there were no differences between intoxication levels: Intoxicated participants were not more susceptible to misinformation than sober or placebo participants. Results are discussed in the light of their theoretical and applied relevance.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcoholic Intoxication*
  • Crime*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Jurisprudence
  • Male
  • United States
  • Young Adult