Compounding Effects of Dysphoria and Mood Stability on Eyewitness Identification
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To date, research on the effect of depressive symptomatology on victim-witness identification is scarce even though depressive symptomatology is highly prevalent in the victim-witness experience. Furthermore, being a victim-witness often instigates the use of counselling services, which could cause a shift in affect, and applying mood dependent memory theories, any change in affect should be detrimental to eyewitness accuracy. Still, individuals suffering from subclinical depression, or dysphoria, have exhibited heightened perceptual skills, and depressed affect exhibits remarkable stability over time. Therefore, I theorized that: (1) dysphoric people’s heightened sensitivity and motivation towards accurate understanding may result in more accurate eyewitness identifications, and (2) individuals who express stable levels of dysphoria should have greater eyewitness identification accuracy than should people with stable levels of nondysphoria, with stable levels of severe depressive symptomatology, or with unstable depressive symptomatology. In Study One, 132 students were randomly assigned to one of three autobiographical mood inductions: a positive, negative, or neutral/control. Following this manipulation, participants completed 12 experimental trials each consisting of a target exposure, a 30-second distraction task, and lastly, a six-person simultaneous line-up. Higher levels of dysphoria were associated with greater overall identification accuracy and that temporary mood conferred an advantage only when participants recalled highly sad memories. In Study Two, 173 participants were exposed to 12 target faces at a first session and returned two-to-four weeks later to identify these faces from 12 six-person simultaneous line-ups. Individuals who exhibited stable levels of dysphoria from eyewitness event to the line-up task performed significantly better on the simultaneous line-ups than all of the other groups. Among those exhibiting unstable dysphoria, people whose depressive symptomatology improved were almost as accurate as those who had stable dysphoria. These results support the need for victim-witnesses to receive immediate help to stabilize or improve depressive symptomatology not just for their mental well-being but also to preserve eyewitness accuracy.