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Eyewitness identification in child witnesses on the autism spectrum

Wilcock, R., Crane, L., Hobson, Z. , Nash, G., Kirke-Smith, M. & Henry, L. ORCID: 0000-0001-5422-4358 (2019). Eyewitness identification in child witnesses on the autism spectrum. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 66, 101407. doi: 10.1016/j.rasd.2019.05.007


Background. Although there is increasing interest in the capabilities of children with autism at different stages of the criminal justice process, there is little research into how well this group perform when asked to identify perpetrators from identification lineups. This is despite theoretical and empirical literature suggesting that autistic children experience face recognition memory difficulties.
Method. As part of a broader study into eyewitness memory skills, 50 children with autism and 162 children with typical development (TD) (all with IQs > 69) watched a mock crime event (either live or on a video) involving two male perpetrators. One week later, their eyewitness identification skills were compared, with children asked to identify the perpetrators from two ecologically valid video lineups. The children were also assessed on a standardised face memory task.

Results. When asked to identify perpetrators in the video lineups, in many respects the autistic children performed at an equivalent level to the TD children. This was despite the TD children outperforming the autistic children on the standardized face memory task.

Conclusions. These preliminary findings suggest that group differences between autistic and TD children may not always emerge on an ecologically valid, real world eyewitness identification lineup task, despite autistic children showing poorer performance on a standardized face memory task. However, as identification performance in both groups was low, it remains important for future research to identify how to scaffold eyewitness identification performance in both children with and without an autism diagnosis.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2019 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (
Publisher Keywords: autism; eyewitness memory; identification lineup; face memory; child witnesses
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine > RJ Pediatrics
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Language & Communication Science
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

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