SCIENCE
09/18/2014 10:03 am ET Updated Sep 18, 2014

If You Had Been In This Room, You Too Might Have Accused These Innocent Men

Despite what you may have seen on shows like "CSI" and "Law and Order: SVU," crime cases are rarely open and shut -- and eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable.

During a Sept. 10 World Science Festival panel discussion called "The Science of Justice: A Matter of Opinion" at the World Science Festival, the panelists were part of a sneak attack experiment on audience members. While the panelists were chatting, a man ran onto the stage and grabbed an iPad from one of the panelists, psychologist Saul Kassin, and ran off. Members of the audience were then asked to identify the "thief" from a line-up of six men.

The results? About 83 percent of the audience fingered an innocent man.

As Kassin explains in the video, those results are a stark reminder of just how unreliable eyewitness testimony can be. Indeed, the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal clinic working to clear the names of people that have been wrongfully convicted, reports that of criminal case convictions ultimately overturned by DNA evidence, 72 percent involved testimony from eyewitnesses.

"Eyewitnesses usually aren’t intentionally trying to finger the wrong person; they’re often just trying to be helpful," Roxanne Palmer, a World Science Festival staff writer, wrote in a recap of the event. "What complicates the matter... is that memory is not recorded so much as constructed and reconstructed -- and how you shape your own memories is subject to outside influence."

Watch the video above to see if you can pick out the thief.

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