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The Arresting Officer

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The first experiment involved the testing of lay witnesses — 49 individuals who were themselves "social" drinkers. Two men and two women were employed as subjects; for some tests no alcohol was consumed, for others varying blood-alcohol levels of intoxication were reached. In each case the subject was brought into a room and was asked to sit down where the "witnesses" were sitting. The subject was then interviewed at length to elicit a range of verbal behavior and somatic and cognitive effects. When the interview was over, the subject rose from the chair and walked out of the room — again, in full view of the observers.

The witnesses' observations resulted in the conclusion:

The assumption that social drinkers would prove to be accurate judges of the [blood-alcohol levels] of other persons was not confirmed... On only 4 of 16 occasions did a significant number of subjects correctly classify a target on a three-stage categorical index of intoxication level... If determining whether [a] man is sober or intoxicated is a matter of common observation, then our subjects apparently lacked this capacity. [Id. at 1072.]

The scientists next dealt with a type of witness with considerably more expertise in the area, 12 bartenders who were tested in the setting of a large cocktail lounge in a New Jersey hotel. The results again proved interesting:

The bartenders correctly rated a target in only one of four instances... Contrary to expectation, no relationship between years of experience as a bartender and [blood-alcohol level] estimation accuracy was found. These data suggest strongly that these bartenders did not possess and had not acquired special knowledge or skill in identifying intoxicated persons. [Id. at 1074.]