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In addition, presentation of stimuli (i.e., blocked vs. mixed) significantly influenced ORB estimates of discrimination accuracy, Z[j] = 4.47, p < .001, largely as a function of the proportion of hits, Z[j] = 5.49, p < .001. As displayed in Table 3, the pattern of weighted means demonstrated that significantly larger ORB effects were observed if facial photographs were altered from study to test and if the presentation of faces was blocked by race/ethnicity.

Studies were also coded for the length of time participants studied each target face (in seconds), and the length of the retention interval between study and test phases of the experiment (in minutes). Results indicated that the amount of study time influenced estimates of the ORB on measures of discrimination accuracy, Z[j] = 11.70, p < .001, r[s] = -.29. The direction of the effect indicated that reducing the amount of study time for each face significantly increased the magnitude of the ORB, largely as a result of an increase in the proportion of false alarm responses to other-race faces, Z[j] = 2.65, r[s] = -.09. This effect of exposure time is similar to the findings of Anthony et al. (1992) across their meta-analytic

Table 2

Weighted Effect Size Estimates (g) on Performance Measures as a Function

of Race/Ethnicity of Participant





of participant





















Table 3

Weighted Effect Size Estimates (g) on Performance Measures as a Function

of Changes in Stimuli and Order of Study by Race of Face









Stimuli at study and test











Order of study by race of face











sample of White participants. Length of the retention interval had a significant influence on the size of the ORB across estimates of response criterion, Z[j] = 7.17, p < .001, r[s] = .18. The direction of the effect indicated that lengthening the retention interval induced more liberal responding to other-race faces.

Extrinsic study factors. As a final set of moderator variables, effect sizes were coded for whether they had been taken from a published or unpublished manuscript and for the date of the manuscript's publication or presentation. Results indicated no significant differences in the magnitude of effect sizes taken from published and unpublished manuscripts, Z[j]s /= 5.46, ps < .001. Weighted means for each decade are presented in Table 4. It appears that whereas the size of the ORB has significantly decreased over time for measures of discrimination accuracy, r[s] = -.22, and proportion of hits, r[s] = -.06, it has significantly increased over time for the proportion of false alarms, r[s] = -.17. Curiously, this effect does not hold for estimates of response criterion.

Influence of date of study on estimates of attitude and contact. With regard to estimates of racial attitude and interracial contact, we also assessed the effect of date of study on the magnitude of effects observed. Whereas the estimated influence of racial attitudes on recognition of other-race faces has significantly decreased over the past 3 decades, Z[j] = 16.67, p < .001, r[s] = -.46, the influence of interracial contact on recognition has significantly increased, Z[j] = 9.28, p < .001, r[s] = .40 (see Table 5). As noted previously, the increase in magnitude of

Table 4

Weighted Effect Size Estimates (g) on Performance Measures as a Function

of Date of Study




Date of study





















Table 5

Weighted Effect Size Estimates (Z[r]) of Influence of

Racial Attitudes and Interracial Contact as a Function of

Date of Study

Date of study












effect of contact over the past 3 decades may be due to a cohort effect resulting from increases in the opportunities for interracial contact between groups (Chance & Goldstein, 1996). Alternatively, the increase may be due to improved precision and validity in the measures used to assess interracial contact. Nevertheless, it is increasingly evident that the contact hypothesis plays a vital role in our conception of the ORB.


The present meta-analysis has empirically reviewed over 30 years of research on the ORB in memory for faces. Thirty-nine research articles were located, involving the combined responses of nearly 5,000 participants. Analyses examined differences in performance on own-race and other-race faces across measures of hit and false alarm responses and across aggregate measures of discrimination accuracy and response criterion. Results of hit and false alarm rates illustrated an ORB mirror-effect pattern in which own-race faces produced a higher proportion of hits and a lower proportion of false alarms compared with other-race faces (see Figure 1). Consistent with this effect, measures of discrimination accuracy demonstrated a significant, moderately sized ORB, accounting for 15% of the variability across samples. Measures of response criterion also showed a significant ORB; however, this effect was considerably smaller, accounting for only 1% of the variability across samples.

In addition, estimates of the influence of both racial attitudes and interracial contact on the ORB were examined across studies. Although no influence of racial attitudes was present in the sample, a small, yet significant, effect of interracial contact was found, accounting for approximately 2% of the variability across the sample. Although racial attitudes appeared to have no direct influence on the ORB, a possible mediating role was indicated by a moderately strong relationship between racial attitudes and interracial contact, accounting for 13% of the variability.

Several study moderators were also examined across the various measures. Results indicated that White participants were more likely to demonstrate the ORB, especially with regard to false alarm responses. Additionally, ORB effects were more likely in measures of discrimination accuracy when presentation and testing were blocked by race of face and when study time was reduced. Measures of response criterion demonstrated ORB effects when stimuli differed between study and test and when the retention interval between study and test was increased. Finally, date of study had a significant influence on both false alarm [*22] and discrimination measures. Results indicated that, over the past 3 decades, the ORB effect appears to have become most prominent in false alarm responses. Measures of the influence of racial attitudes and interracial contact were also affected by date of study, such that the effect of racial attitudes on other-race face recognition has decreased, whereas the effect of interracial contact has increased in more recent years.

Theoretical Implications

The pattern of hit and false alarm responses across studies exhibited a mirror-effect pattern (see Figure 1). This pattern of responses has been demonstrated across a number of manipulations in the literature and has been deemed a "regularity" of recognition memory (Glanzer & Adams, 1985, 1990). It is interesting that this mirror-effect pattern is often captured in aggregate signal detection measures of discrimination accuracy and response criterion, consistent with our meta-analytic results. Much of the debate regarding this phenomenon has involved whether the mirror effect pattern results from a change in the response criterion for each stimulus set, or whether the effects observed on the response criterion measures represent an actual change in the psychological sense of familiarity resulting from the manipulation.

In support of the latter hypothesis, McClelland and Chappell (1998) have proposed a model of recognition memory involving a mechanism of differentiation. As discussed previously, differentiation is a process in which the perceiver focuses attention toward invariant cues that provide the best basis for discriminations within a given stimulus set (Gibson, 1969). McClelland and Chappell model this process by proposing that individuals store features of a given stimulus in memory and that these features (and their associated probabilities) are updated in the representation each time the individual encounters the particular stimulus, thereby resulting in an increase in the psychological sense of familiarity. Furthermore, this increase in the strength of the representation is accompanied by a decrease in the likelihood of responding to a novel, unrelated stimulus. Thus, as McClelland and Chappell conclude, "familiarity breeds differentiation" (p. 726).

McClelland and Chappell's (1998) model effectively simulates the mirror-effect pattern across measures of both discrimination accuracy and response criterion. In doing so, the authors note that the response criterion effects are reproduced despite the fact that the model actually holds the response criterion constant across the stimulus manipulation. Thus, the fluctuation in response criterion is produced as a function of changes in the distributions of new and old items across the familiarity continuum, and not as a result of shifts in the location of the criterion itself. A recent model by Shiffrin and Steyvers (1997) also reproduced these results and was similarly based on the process of differentiation; however, some conceptual differences do exist between the two approaches.

With regard to the ORB, McClelland and Chappell's (1998) model suggests that individuals store own-race faces more accurately and efficiently with respect to the appropriate featural and configural information represented in memory. This accuracy and efficiency may be the result of prior experience (or familiarity) with own-race faces that has led to the ability in attending to the proper invariant aspects of the face. Other-race faces, on the other hand, appear to be encoded in [*23] a less efficient manner, in which fewer or inappropriate cues are selected for storage. When later presented with a recognition task, such differences in encoding result in both differential discrimination accuracy and criterion of responding to own-race versus other-race faces. However, this apparent difference in response criterion occurs as a byproduct of differentiation processes in which the underlying distributions of own- and other-race faces shift along the familiarity continuum. In practical terms, our general familiarity with other-race faces, in the absence of an appropriate representation of features in memory, leads to differential responding in acknowledging the familiarity of the face. As such, this apparent difference in response criterion indicates the role of increased variability in the encoding of featural and/or configural information of other-race faces when compared with the more consistent (less variable) representation of own-race faces.

In summary, the mirror-effect pattern across hit and false alarm responses, together with the associated discrimination accuracy and response criterion effects, suggest a process of differentiation consistent with several recent models of recognition memory (McClelland & Chappell, 1998; Shiffrin & Steyvers, 1997). The implications of this type of model are consistent with the perceptual learning framework outlined previously, including research on the configural-featural (Diamond & Carey, 1986; Rhodes et al., 1989) and race-feature hypotheses (Levin, 1996), as well as the representational model proposed by Valentine and his colleagues (Chiroro & Valentine, 1995; Valentine, 1991). Furthermore, the importance of prior research on the influence of interracial contact, particularly with regard to the effects of discrimination training (e.g., Malpass et al., 1973) and prior experience with other-race faces (Chiroro & Valentine, 1995; Li et al., 1998), are substantiated within this theoretical framework. Although we have previously discussed the potential importance of response criterion measures in the ORB based on findings in our lab (Slone et al., 2000), few studies currently in the literature have documented this effect. Future research that more thoroughly investigates the importance of response criterion can further distinguish its role in the differentiation process.

Applied Considerations

From an applied perspective, several issues merit further discussion. First, the magnitude of the ORB that has been found across many studies, accounting for 15% of the variance in discrimination accuracy, indicates that this is an issue of considerable practical importance. Although our analyses demonstrated that the overall magnitude of the effect on discrimination accuracy has decreased over the past 2 decades, it was also observed that the influence of false alarm responses on the ORB has actually increased during that same period. We believe this to be of great practical significance, as it is precisely the existence of false alarms, namely the erroneous identification of an individual who is not the perpetrator, with which attorneys, judges, and researchers have been most concerned. For example, a recent U.S. Department of Justice report focused on 28 cases in which felony convictions were overturned due to subsequent DNA analyses. In over 85% of those cases, erroneous eyewitness identifications (i.e., false alarms) were the [*24] primary evidence that led to the original conviction (Connors, Lundregan, Miller, & McEwan, 1996).

Second, our moderator analyses indicated that both recognition and lineup identification tasks yield similar ORB estimates across studies. Although a trend was present for lineup tasks to demonstrate a larger ORB effect on correct identifications, more studies involving the use of lineup tasks are needed to better assess the reliability of this effect. Furthermore, as R. C. Lindsay and Wells (1983) noted some time ago, it is important that researchers also manipulate the presence or absence of the target such that they might examine the influence of diagnosticity (i.e., the ratio of correct identifications to false identifications) in the other-race lineup situation.

Our moderator analyses also demonstrated that the amount of study time significantly influenced discrimination accuracy in the ORB, particularly through an increase in false alarm responses to other-race faces when study time is limited. Although the application of the laboratory-based term "study time" to the crime situation may seem forced, it should be noted that many crimes involving eyewitnesses occur in a matter of seconds (e.g., assaults, murders, some robberies). This short period of time would involve very limited "study time" for the eyewitness, hence increasing the chances of subsequent false alarms (i.e., mistaken identifications) in cross-race situations.

Moderator analyses also indicated that the length of the retention interval between study and test influenced the ORB through a change in the response criterion. More specifically, this effect indicated that as the length of time increased between study and test, participants increasingly adopted a more liberal response criterion when responding to other-race faces. This liberal response criterion indicated that participants required less evidence from memory (e.g., familiarity or memorability of the face) to respond that they had previously seen an other-race face. In actual cases, the time between viewing the suspect at the crime and later attempting an identification can range between days, weeks, months, and even years. Given this influence of response criterion, the legal community should be cautious of cross-race identifications attempted after such extensive delays.

In the eyewitness literature, researchers have made a distinction between system variables--those that are, at least in principle, controllable by the criminal justice system (e.g., interviewing techniques) and estimator variables--those that can be manipulated experimentally, but that are not controllable in actual cases; their influence can only be "estimated" post hoc (e.g., the ORB) (Wells, 1978; Wells, Wright, & Bradfield, 1999). Some have suggested that greater research attention should be directed toward system variables, because research results may be more directly applicable to police procedures and legal policy. However, there is one related aspect of the ORB that does involve system variables, namely the procedures used in the construction of identification lineups (Brigham, Meissner, & Wasserman, 1999; Brigham & Ready, 1985). Brigham and Ready (1985) found that race influenced the manner in which individuals constructed lineups, such that both Blacks and Whites used a looser criterion (i.e., more faces were seen as similar to each other, and therefore as useful in a lineup) when constructing lineups of other-race faces as compared with constructing own-race lineups. Hence, there was a tendency to construct fairer lineups (in which the faces were [*25] actually similar to one another) when working with own-race faces. Further research on this application of the ORB seems warranted.

Legal "Safeguards" to the ORB in Eyewitness Identification

As we have discussed elsewhere (Brigham, Wasserman, & Meissner, 1999), several purported "safeguards" are available to defendants accused primarily on the basis of eyewitness evidence, including cross-examination by defense counsel, cautionary instructions to jurors, and expert testimony regarding eyewitness evidence. Although cross-examination has not been shown effective in allowing jurors to distinguish accurate from inaccurate eyewitnesses (R. C. Lindsay, Wells, & O'Connor, 1989; R. C. Lindsay, Wells, & Rumpel, 1981), cautionary jury instructions may have some potential (Cutler, Dexter, & Penrod, 1990; Greene, 1988; Katzev & Wishart, 1985), assuming that they contain accurate information. Unfortunately, such instructions are typically written by legal scholars who have little knowledge of the research findings.

What might more appropriate model jury instructions include? Based on the survey responses of researchers classed as "eyewitness experts" (Kassin et al., 1989) and the results of research meta-analyses, useful model jury instructions could summarize the negative impacts of several factors on the accuracy of eyewitness memory, each of which was listed by over 70% of the experts in the Kassin et al. survey (see also Leippe, 1995). These include short exposure time, high stress, misleading postevent information, and biased lineup instructions. Model instructions could also describe potential problems due to unconscious transference, cross-race identifications, unfair lineups, and the use of showups. They could also point out that expressed confidence or certainty about an identification is not a strong indicator of accuracy (Bothwell, Deffenbacher, & Brigham, 1987; Penrod & Cutler, 1995; Sporer, Penrod, Read, & Cutler, 1995).

The most commonly cited jury instructions are likely those in United States v. Telfaire (1972), in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia endorsed the use of a cautionary instruction on eyewitness evidence. The Telfaire instructions state that the juror should evaluate whether the witness "had the capacity and an adequate opportunity to observe the defendant," and whether the witness's identification "was the product of his [sic] own recollection." Jurors are told that they may also take into account "the strength of the identification [certainty]," whether the identification "may have been influenced by the circumstances under which the defendant was presented to him [sic] for identification," and the "length of time that lapsed between the occurrence of the crime and the next opportunity of the witness to see the defendant" (Cutler & Penrod, 1995, pp. 255-256).

Although Telfaire was seen by some as a positive step, researchers have noted many shortcomings. For example, the instructions fail to specify in which direction each factor should influence an evaluation of the eyewitness. Furthermore, the Telfaire decision was based largely on the five factors listed by the Supreme Court in Neil v. Biggers (1972). These factors included (a) the witness's opportunity to view the suspect during the crime, (b) the length of time between the crime and the subsequent identification, (c) the level of certainty demonstrated by the witness during the identification, (d) the (apparent) accuracy of the witness's [*26] prior description of the suspect, and (e) the witness's degree of attention during the crime. However, only two of these five factors have been clearly supported by research findings (see Brigham, Wasserman, & Meissner, 1999), namely opportunity to view the suspect and the retention interval between viewing and identification of the suspect. Finally, many factors shown by research to be relevant to eyewitness accuracy, such as the ORB, stress, weapon focus, lineup bias, and so forth, are not mentioned in the Telfaire instructions. n3

On a more positive note, the New Jersey Supreme Court recently held that in cases involving a cross-race identification, the defendant is entitled to jury instructions specifically warning jurors about the potential for misidentification of other-race persons (State v. Cromedy, 1999). In this case, a Black intruder sexually assaulted a White college student in her apartment. Eight months later the victim saw a man on the street whom she believed to be her assailant. The man was immediately picked up, and the woman identified him 15 min later in a one-person "showup." It is interesting to note that the victim had failed to identify the same man from a photograph lineup only 2 days after the initial assault! The New Jersey Supreme Court, citing in its decision some of the studies included in our meta-analysis, ruled that a cross-race identification, as a subset of eyewitness identification, requires a special jury instruction in the appropriate case. Namely, the instruction should be given when the cross-racial identification is a critical issue in the case, especially when other evidence does not corroborate it. Unfortunately, the instruction advocated by the New Jersey Supreme Court was not directional. The instruction indicated that jurors "may consider, if you think it is appropriate to do so, whether the cross-racial nature of the identification has affected the accuracy of the witness's original perception and/or accuracy of a subsequent identification," without indicating what that effect might be.

With regard to expert testimony, the present meta-analysis results provide additional material that could be presented by an eyewitness expert in cases involving disputed eyewitness evidence. The present findings provide strong evidence of the reliability of the ORB effect, based on the responses of almost 5,000 respondents. The analyses yield meaningful indexes of the strength of the effect, namely that it accounts for 15% of the variance in discrimination accuracy or, alternatively, that participants were over 2.2 times as likely to accurately identify own-race faces as new versus old, when compared with performance on other-race faces. The findings indicate that the majority of errors for other-race faces are false alarms, that is, incorrectly identifying an other-race face as having been seen before. This is the type of error that is generally seen as most harmful in a crime situation. The results show that the ORB is not related to the level of racial prejudice. Finally, factors such as study time and retention interval play an important role in determining when the ORB is most likely to occur.

Given both the reliability of the ORB shown in the present analysis (especially with regard to false alarm responses) and the general agreement among researchers regarding the importance of the phenomenon (Kassin et al., 1989; [*27] Yarmey & Jones, 1983), we advocate the use of expert testimony in cases involving disputed cross-racial eyewitness evidence. Although prior research has demonstrated that the factors influencing eyewitness testimony often reach beyond jurors' common knowledge (Brigham & Bothwell, 1983; Devenport, Penrod, & Cutler, 1997), the courts have often prohibited expert testimony on eyewitness identification, including the ORB (e.g., People v. Dixon, 1980; United States v. Hudson, 1989; United States v. Watson, 1978), ruling that such testimony would not be helpful to jurors. However, in a recent case, United States v. Norwood (1996), the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey ruled in support of expert testimony on cross-racial identification, along with several other factors. In its decision, the court reasoned that such expert testimony would not confuse or overwhelm the jury. Rather, the "defendant's expert's proposed testimony regarding cross-racial identification was sufficiently tied to facts of [the] case and would be helpful to [the] jury" (p. 1133). The decision relied heavily on the 1985 United States v. Downing decision, which held that such expert testimony should (a) properly "fit" the particular features of the case, (b) be based on reliable scientific principles, and (c) not confuse or overwhelm the jury. Expert testimony on cross-racial identifications was also found to be helpful to the jury in United States v. Stevens (1984) and United States v. Smith (1984).

In closing, the present meta-analysis has yielded many intriguing findings that appear both to bolster our current understanding of the mechanisms responsible for the ORB effect and to illuminate new directions for future research. We believe that previous research has sufficiently underscored the robustness of the phenomenon and illustrated the potential for moderator variables in defining its limits. The current analysis sought only to bring together these findings and to discuss the potential for various theoretical frameworks that might account for the pattern of results across studies. Overall, the ORB was found to be a reliable and generalizable phenomenon, deserving of further theoretical consideration. Moreover, the strong influence of false identifications in the ORB indicates that this issue is of great practical importance as well.


References marked with an asterisk indicate studies included in the meta-analysis.

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Note. Studies contributed one or more of the following estimates: hits; false alarms; discrimination; response criterion; racial attitudes--accuracy; interracial contact--accuracy; attitudes--contact.

Received April 12, 2000

Revision received October 20, 2000

Accepted October 24, 2000

FIGURE 1, "Mirror-effect" pattern demonstrated in hit and false alarm responses to own-race and other-race faces.

n1 To assess the reliability of coding study moderator variables, two raters generated independent codings for each variable across studies. Rate of agreement across all variables ranged between 93% and 100%.

n2 This conservative criterion ([alpha] = .001) for study moderators was chosen due to the sensitivity of the "fixed effects" analysis. Given the exploratory nature of our investigation, we felt that such a criterion might allow us to examine a range of variables that would likely be replicable under direct empirical investigation. A more conservative, "random effects" model was also run on the sample of studies (see Raudenbush, 1994). Results indicated that White participants yielded a significantly larger own-race bias (ORB) on false alarm responses when compared with both Black, Z = 2.50, p < .05, and other racial/ethnic participants, Z = 2.45, p < .05. White and other participants also exhibited a significant difference in the response criterion estimates, Z = 2.13, p < .05. Additionally, limiting the amount of study time significantly increased estimates of the ORB on aggregate measures of discrimination accuracy, Z = -2.19, p < .05. No other moderator effects were found to be significant, Zs

In his concurring opinion in Telfaire, Chief Judge Bazelon urged that juries be warned of the pitfalls of cross-racial identification. Unfortunately, this caution was not included in the final version of the instructions.

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