Students won’t forget Jane Whittington, PhD, or at least she hopes they won’t after sharing her expertise in eyewitness memory. Dr. Whittington is the newest member of the School of Arts and Science’s Psychology department, where a love of mentoring and fostering relationships has turned into a blossoming education career. Dr. Whittington sat down with Holy Family University to discuss her journey to HFU, her research, and her favorite podcast genre.
HFU: Can you tell me about your background and what brought you to Holy Family University?
JW: “I started my career in higher education at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY and throughout the course of my time there I was first exposed to the field of eyewitness memory. At the time, I was trying to figure out my academic and career paths, and I found eyewitness memory to be the perfect combination of investigating my interests: human thought processes and the criminal justice system. Then, during my time as a graduate student at Texas A&M University - Commerce, I was given the opportunity to try my hand at teaching and found my true passion in working with and developing a mentoring relationship with students. Holy Family University and its strong emphasis on community and academic advancement really spoke to me and the major motivations behind my involvement in higher education.”
HFU: Can you talk about your research interests in eyewitness memory, metacognitive judgments, and facial recognition? What made you want to pursue this field of Psychology?
JW: “Eyewitness memory research as a whole examines the factors that can impact eyewitness identification and reporting before, during, and after the police investigation process. My research looks into instances where an eyewitness is overconfident in their identification decision, resulting in a suspect identification that is incorrect. This is an important research topic because, when an eyewitness makes a faulty identification decision, it can have a cascading negative effect on the criminal justice process. The faulty identification can lead to a faulty conviction, which can lead to false imprisonment, and in some cases a false execution of an innocent person. Additionally, if an innocent person is convicted of a crime, the actual perpetrator remains free and free to commit further crime. My research tries to find ways to minimize overconfidence in eyewitnesses, hopefully avoiding this negative cascade. My continued pursuit of this field is motivated by the hope that my research and that of my colleagues can have an impact on the criminal justice system and reduce the number of innocent people that get falsely convicted.”
HFU: You’ve made quite a few conference presentations on the topic of eyewitness identification during police lineups. What are some of the most interesting things you’ve learned while speaking about this topic?
JW: “One of the most interesting things that I’ve learned while presenting and hearing my colleagues present is the large amount of seemingly innocuous factors that can harm a person’s memory and negatively impact their identification and reporting throughout a criminal justice investigation. For instance, if a weapon is present during a crime, individuals are less likely to be able to remember a perpetrator’s face later on. The weapon does not even have to be used or pointed at the victim, just its presence alone is enough to draw an eyewitness’s attention away from the perpetrators face! This finding is known as the ‘Weapon Focus Effect’ and has been replicated numerous times in artificial and realistic scenarios, and has clear implications for the many crimes in which a weapon is present: a perpetrator might not be able to be identified. Research is continually looking for ways to reduce this effect, or at least figure out if there are any limitations to its influence on memory.”
HFU: What are some of your hobbies outside of the classroom?
JW: “My interest in the criminal justice system extends outside the classroom as evidenced by the numerous true crime podcasts I can be found listening to on a regular basis. Also, I proudly consider myself a nerd at heart with a soft spot for horror and science fiction films, with a clear favorite series being the ‘Alien’ franchise. I also enjoy cooking and experimenting with different cultures’ cuisines, especially spicy recipes. My husband and I are proud parents of two Schnoodles, who probably take and share too many pictures of them.”