chapter  9
19 Pages

The ageing eyewitness

ByRachel Wilcock

Eyewitness evidence plays a vital role in our criminal justice system; however, it is not always accurate (Huff et al. 1986). Thus, psychologists have investigated different factors that may influence the accuracy of eyewitness evidence, and research shows that one factor (among many) that reliably affects eyewitness performance is age of the witness (Wilcock et al. 2008). The vast majority of research investigating the effect of age on eyewitness performance has focused on comparing children and young adults. This is somewhat surprising bearing in mind that many countries have ageing populations. For example, in the UK, in 2006 there were 11.3 million people of state pensionable age. This is projected to rise to 12.7 million by 2020 and 15 million by 2031 (ONS 2008). One of the implications of this is that older adults may be more likely to witness crime and be involved in the Criminal Justice System (Rothman et al. 2000). Additionally, older adults may also be victims of crime. Thornton et al. (2003) found that in 2001/2 there were 19,400 reported cases of distraction burglary where the victim was aged 60 years and over. In light of these factors, researchers have recently become interested in examining the performance of older adult witnesses, being those aged 60 and over.