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Steven Clark

Professor of Psychology
Steven Clark
Increasing the Accuracy of Eyewitness Testimony
Clark has consulted extensively with law enforcement and prosecuting and defense attorneys on matters of eyewitness identification and criminal justice policy. His current research examines the costs and benefits of eyewitness identification reforms, and the interface between social science and public policy.

His research is funded by the National Science Foundation and has been published in several scientific and scholarly journals including Law and Human Behavior, the Journal of Experimental Psychology, and Perspectives on Psychological Science.

Areas of Expertise

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  • Director, UCR Robert Presley Center for Crime and Justice Studies

Research Summary

Examining human memory in order to understand the complications of eyewitness memory.

Q&A

Q: Please explain your research:
My research examines how witnesses make identification decisions in a lineup room with suspects.

Q: How do you go about your research?
We can’t know for sure if a suspect committed the crime when studying real crimes, so instead, we stage and simulate crimes in my laboratory or at locations such as an ATM and we videotape the crime. In the laboratory we can simulate both cases where a suspect is guilty and innocent and since we orchestrated the crime, we know the truth and can further test witness identification and memory when we ask participants to recall information and details.

Q: What is it that interests you about witness testimony?
We know that witnesses make mistakes – sometimes they fail to identify the guilty or they falsely identify the innocent. My interest is in identifying why witnesses make these mistakes. I try to focus on the social interactions between police officers who administer the lineup and witnesses making decisions. What we’ve discovered is how subtle these forms of influence can be.

Q: What is an example of an experiment you’ve conducted?
We experimented by training people showing a lineup with very simple phrases, cautioning the witness to be careful when making a decision. What’s crucial is the timing; for example, if a witness has been looking at a lineup for several seconds, the likelihood that they’ll say “none of the above” or “I don’t know” increases. At that point, if a lineup administrator says “just take your time and look at each photograph carefully,” it prompts the witness to redirect attention back to the lineup to identify someone, which increases the overall identification rate, though it may not be a correct identification.

Q: What is the impact of your research on criminal justice policies and procedures?
We can use my research to develop procedures that reduce the false identification rate but these same procedures will also reduce the correct identification rate. Essentially, if we want to protect the innocent, we also end up protecting the guilty, thereby causing values conflicts and making decisions about policy procedures very complicated.

Q: What’s next for your research?
As we continue this research, we’re looking to better understand the nature of that tradeoff and how it fits in the criminal justice system. Much of what we do in our research is try to understand what the expected outcomes are and how the outcome is affected by the procedures and the process.

Q: What is the Presley Center for Crime and Justice Studies and what is your role with the Center?
I am currently serving as the director of the Presley Center for Crime and Justice Studies, the only publicly funded research center in California, which started as part of a major $12 million federal effort at six sites across the country and has continued locally with results-based support from the state and the city of Riverside. It’s a great fit for me personally, as the primary mission of the center is to conduct research on issues related to the causes and prevention of crime and effective policy and procedures for corrections and law enforcement.

Q: Why is UCR a great place to do research?
The people. I have great colleagues and terrific students, both undergraduate and graduate. I feel like I’m part of a great team.

Q: What does Living the Promise Mean to you?
To me, Living the Promise is about change and growth. College is such a life-changing process, and I’ve had the wonderful privilege of seeing some great kids grow up. They often come in as 17-year-olds fresh out of high school and I’ve seen them graduate, in some cases go on to law school or graduate school, get married and start families. Living the Promise at UC Riverside is about great people and the relationships I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t a professor here.

Steven Clark “We know that witnesses make mistakes — sometimes they fail to identify the guilty or they falsely identify the innocent. My interest is in identifying why witnesses make these mistakes.”

—Steven Clark
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