Weber State University communications professor Sheree Josephson recently completed research on how witnesses view crimes and identify suspects, focusing on how an eyewitness visually tracks criminal events and photographs used in lineups.

Josephson has conducted research on eye tracking in the past, mostly focusing on how people view websites, advertisements and software. Recently, she decided to branch out in her eye-tracking research.

An event that led Josephson to undertake the research project was The Innocence Project, a national organization that tries to exonerate those who have been wrongly convicted of a crime.

Josephson traveled to North Carolina to conduct the research, so that she could work in a more diverse community, better acquainted with a mix of races. She worked with WSU Multimedia Services to create a video of a hypothetical crime being committed. The participants in the study watched the video, waited 24 hours, then came back to identify the suspect in the video.

“The findings were interesting,” Josephson said. “The study confirmed the high rate which people make mistakes in identifying suspects in cross-racial eyewitness identification situations.”

Josephson said she hopes her research can make a difference in how law enforcement agents use and understand eyewitness identification. She’ll be working on another study this summer, this time in Utah, comparing sequential lineups to photo arrays. She said she believes she could be the first to study the comparison using eye tracking.

Josephson’s research, which is titled “Selecting the Suspect: An Eye-Tracking Comparison of Viewing of Same-Race vs. Cross-Race Photographs in Eyewitness Identification,” appeared in the October-December 2011 issue of Visual Communication Quarterly.

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