Are individuals' familiarity judgments diagnostic of prior contact?

Kathy Pezdek, Stacia Stolzenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The extensive eyewitness memory research literature has been restricted to memory for strangers. Although it is often assumed that eyewitnesses are more accurate identifying familiar than unfamiliar individuals, little is known about whether individuals' familiarity judgments are diagnostic of prior contact. Caucasian and Asian sophomores (N=139) in two small private high schools viewed yearbook pictures of (a) graduated students from their school who were seniors (fourth year) when participants were freshmen (first year) (familiar) and (b) unfamiliar individuals, and responded whether each was 'familiar'. The design was completely crossed; familiar faces at each school served as unfamiliar faces at the other school. Based on d′ data, the cross-race effect resulted for familiarity judgments. Also, although individuals' familiarity judgments were diagnostic of prior contact, accuracy was low (mean hit rate=0.42; mean false alarm rate=0.23), rendering an eyewitness's report of having seen a perpetrator casually in the past of limited forensic value.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)302-314
Number of pages13
JournalPsychology, Crime and Law
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • cross-race effect
  • eyewitness memory
  • face recognition memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • General Psychology
  • Law


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