A meta-analytic review of the effects of high stress on eyewitness memory

Kenneth A. Deffenbacher, Brian H. Bornstein, Steven D. Penrod, E. Kiernan McGorty

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

403 Scopus citations


In the past 30 years researchers have examined the impact of heightened stress on the fidelity of eyewitness memory. Meta-analyses were conducted on 27 independent tests of the effects of heightened stress on eyewitness identification of the perpetrator or target person and separately on 36 tests of eyewitness recall of details associated with the crime. There was considerable support for the hypothesis that high levels of stress negatively impact both types of eyewitness memory. Meta-analytic Z-scores, whether unweighted or weighted by sample size, ranged from -5.40 to -6.44 (high stress condition-low stress condition). The overall effect sizes were -.31 for both proportion of correct identifications and accuracy of eyewitness recall. Effect sizes were notably larger for target-present than for target-absent lineups, for eyewitness identification studies than for face recognition studies and for eyewitness studies employing a staged crime than for eyewitness studies employing other means to induce stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)687-706
Number of pages20
JournalLaw and human behavior
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2004


  • Eyewitness memory
  • High and low stress
  • Meta-analytic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Law


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