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The Case of Mistaken Identity

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Mysteries and detective stories have been popular since the time of Sherlock Holmes. The solutions to these fictional cases often involve untangling seemingly contradictory evidence from eyewitnesses. This project studies one procedure used in the real-world process of eyewitness identification of criminal suspects: the lineup. How accurate are eyewitness identifications using various lineup methods?


Areas of Science
Time Required
Average (6-10 days)
Material Availability
Readily available
Very Low (under $20)


The purpose of this project is to find the most accurate type of criminal identification lineup.


There is a significant amount of controversy surrounding the accuracy of eyewitness identifications used in the courtroom. Lineups are frequently used to capture witness testimony, however, they also raise a number of questions about the accuracy of the criminal identification process. This project will test one part of the identification process, the lineup, to determine the level of accuracy of eyewitness identification using four different lineup techniques.

Terms and Concepts


You will first need to understand the differences between types of lineups and some of the pros and cons of each method:

Materials and Equipment

Experimental Procedure

There are two ways to execute this experiment: live or a video taped version of the crime. Ideally you will do the live version, but if resources prevent you from doing this, you can use the video tape version as an alternative.


  • Write a script for a crime and gather a group of actors together to take part in the event. (Taped version: Film the scene and also film the lineups that you will be showing to the subjects).
  • Gather your test subjects. An easy way to get test subjects is to ask teachers if you can conduct the test in their class. Make sure you pick classes that do not have the same students so no one will see this "event" twice.
  • Send the actors into each class to put on their "show". (Taped version: show the "crime video" to the subjects.)
  • Two days later, go back to each of the classes with a lineup. Note, each class should only view one of the four lineups: simultaneous, simultaneous/field, sequential, and sequential/field. (Taped version: show the subjects the tapes of the lineups.)
  • Have each student note down on a piece of paper the number of the suspect they believe committed the crime.
  • Analyze the responses to determine which lineup method was the most accurate in identifying the true criminal.
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The Department of Justice Guide to collecting eyewitness evidence has a detailed plan on how to handle eyewitness evidence. While more time consuming, it would be interesting to test if there is a difference in accuracy between the simple follow up survey method (mentioned above) and the more detailed follow up recommended by the Department of Justice.

Another option would be to ask eyewitnesses to use other characteristics for identification (such as voice or body type).


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MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "The Case of Mistaken Identity." Science Buddies, 20 Nov. 2020, https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Soc_p006/sociology/mistaken-identity. Accessed 30 May 2023.

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2020, November 20). The Case of Mistaken Identity. Retrieved from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Soc_p006/sociology/mistaken-identity

Last edit date: 2020-11-20
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