Dr Carolyn Semmler

Carolyn Semmler
Senior Lecturer
School of Psychology
Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences

My research applies psychological theories to the law. I am interested in understanding how memory reports become distorted by post-decision feedback, how confidence and accuracy are related in recognition memory and in unfamiliar face matching. I have also worked on methods to improve juror comprehension of legal concepts, how to limit the impact of misleading drug promotion marketing and how to improve the use of forensic science evidence in legal settings.

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Dr Carolyn Semmler

My research applies psychological theories to the law. I am interested in understanding how memory reports become distorted by post-decision feedback, how confidence and accuracy are related in recognition memory and in unfamiliar face matching. I have also worked on methods to improve juror comprehension of legal concepts, how to limit the impact of misleading drug promotion marketing and how to improve the use of forensic science evidence in legal settings.

I'm a Senior Lecturer with the School of Psychology at the University of Adelaide. My research applies psychological theory (cognitive and social) to the law. In particular I'm interested in the problem of how to obtain and use information reported by witnesses' to crime to make decisions about the likelihood that a given suspect is the offender. I'm also interested in using psychological principles to improve the accuracy and efficiency of decisions made by our courts. As far as intellectual pedigree goes, I'm the 'offspring' of the eyewitness research group headed up by Neil Brewer. I have also collaborated with leading international eyewitness researchers including Gary Wells and Rod Lindsay on projects related to the use of eyewitness identification evidence. More recently I have collaborated with Amy Bradfield Douglass on theoretical explanations of the post-identification feedback effect (funded by an ARC Discovery Project 2010-2012 and a National Science Foundation Grant (2010-2012)). I have an ARC funded project underway developing formal models of the eyewitness identification task (DP 160101048) in collaboration with recognition memory researchers John Dunn, Laura Mickes and John Wixted. This work will help to develop the identification procedures of the future.

Other work within the area of Psychology and Law has focused on juror comprehension of judge's instructions and methods for improving comprehension (see Semmler, Brewer & Harvey, 2002). The impact of mood and emotion (in particular anger and sadness) on juror decision making (see Semmler & Brewer, 2001) and application of social persuasion theory to the courtroom. I am also interested in the human operators use of automated face matching systems to identify individuals in security settings (see Heyer & Semmler, 2013). This work is being carried out in collaboration with Dr Rebecca Heyer and Dr Robin Nichols at the Defence Science and Technology Group (funded by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet 2010-2012).

Outside of the psychology-law area I have been developing interests in the application of psychological theory to the medical decision making, in particular to better understand and improve doctors' treatment decisions. We have also investigated methods for inducing 'healthy skepticism' in health consumers & improvement vaccination decision making among parents. This work was carried out by Dr Brennan Ong as part of his PhD dissertation and work on vaccination was carried out in collaboration with Dr Alexis Wheeler. I have ongoing work on the psychology of meat consumption and the meat-animal connection being conducted with Prof. Anna Chur-Hansen and Dr Rachel Ankeny & Dr Heather Bray (Food Values Research Group).

I have also co-authored work applying principles of cognitive psychology to hearing and the perception of sound in legal disputes (see Alias, Best, Niall, Semmler & Woolford, 2010) and provide workshops to legal practitioners and expert witnesses on the impact of cognitive bias in the assessment of evidence for legal matters.

I was the recipient of the Australian Psychological Society College of Forensic Psychologists "Macconochie Prize". I am a member of the Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, I review papers for the journals Law and Human BehaviorJournal of Experimental Psychology: AppliedApplied Cognitive Psychology and Psychology, Crime and Law.


Date Position Institution name
2007 Senior Lecturer University of Adelaide
2004 - 2008 Adjunct Lecturer Flinders University

Awards and Achievements

Date Type Title Institution Name Amount
2004 Maconochie Prize Australian Psycholgical Society


Date Institution name Country Title
2000 - 2004 Flinders University Australia PhD
1996 - 1999 Flinders University Australia B. Psyc. (Hons)


Date Citation
2016 Semmler,C, Hurst,J, 2016, The impact of state and trait anger on processing of evidential inconsistencies, Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, OnlinePubl, 1-11 10.1080/13218719.2016.1258686
2015 Semmler,CA, 2015, The psychology of unconscious bias, Bulletin of the Law Society of South Australia, 37, 7, 14-15
2013 Douglass,A, Brewer,N, Semmler,C, Bustamante,L, Hiley,A, 2013, The dynamic interaction between eyewitnesses and interviewers: The impact of differences in perspective on memory reports and interviewer behavior, Law and Human Behavior, 37, 4, 290-301 10.1037/lhb0000034
2013 Heyer,R, Semmler,C, 2013, Forensic confirmation bias: the case of facial image comparison, Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 2, 1, 68-70 10.1016/j.jarmac.2013.01.008
2010 Douglass,A, Brewer,N, Semmler,C, 2010, Moderators of post-identification feedback effects on eyewitnesses' memory reports, Legal and Criminological Psychology, 15, 2, 279-292 10.1348/135532509X446337
2008 Lindsay,R, Semmler,C, Weber,N, Brewer,N, Lindsay,M, 2008, How variations in distance affect eyewitness reports and identification accuracy, Law and Human Behavior, 32, 6, 526-535 10.1007/s10979-008-9128-x
2006 Semmler,C, Brewer,N, 2006, Postidentification feedback effects on face recognition confidence: evidence for metacognitive influences, Applied Cognitive Psychology, 20, 7, 895-916 10.1002/acp.1238
2004 Semmler,C, Brewer,N, Wells,G, 2004, Effects of Postidentification Feedback on Eyewitness Identification and Nonidentification Confidence, Journal of Applied Psychology, 89, 2, 334-346 10.1037/0021-9010.89.2.334
2004 Weber,N, Brewer,N, Wells,G, Semmler,C, Keast,A, 2004, Eyewitness Identification Accuracy and Response Latency: The Unruly 10-12-Second Rule, Journal of Experimental Psychology-Applied, 10, 3, 139-147 10.1037/1076-898X.10.3.139
2004 Brewer,N, Harvey,S, Semmler,C, 2004, Improving comprehension of jury instructions with audio-visual presentation, Applied Cognitive Psychology, 18, 6, 765-776 10.1002/acp.1036
2002 Semmler,C, Brewer,N, 2002, Effects of mood and emotion on juror processing and judgments, Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 20, 4, 423-436 10.1002/bsl.502
2002 Semmler,C, Brewer,N, 2002, Using a flow-chart to improve comprehension of jury instructions, Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 9, 2, 262-270 10.1375/pplt.2002.9.2.262

Book Chapters

Date Citation
2012 Semmler,C, Brewer,N, Douglass,A, 2012, Jurors believe eyewitnesses, APA Press
2010 Alais,D, Best,V, Niall,P, Semmler,C, Woolford,D, 2010, Hearing and the perception of sound, Thompson Reuters, pp. 1-11058
2007 Brewer,N, Weber,N, Semmler,C, 2007, A Role for Theory in Eyewitness Identification Research, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates inc., New Jersey, pp. 201-218
2005 Brewer,N, Weber,N, Semmler,C, 2005, Eyewitness identification, The Guilford Press, New York, pp. 177-221
2005 Brewer,N, Williams,K, Semmler,C, 2005, Psychology and law research: an overview, The Guilford Press, New York, pp. 1-10

Conference Papers

Date Citation
2016 Matthew Kaesler,P, Matthew Welsh,B, Semmler,C, 2016, Predicting overprecision in range estimation, The 38th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (COGSCI), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
2010 Semmler,C, Nahum,T, Clark,Y, 2010, An examination of hope, self-esteem and positive and negative experiences among first year psychology students, ERGA Conference, Adelaide, Australia

Conference Items

Date Citation
2017 Semmler,CA, Hendrickson,A, Ma-Wyatt,A, Heyer,R, 2017, Using response time models to understand unfamiliar face matching expertise, Australian Mathematical Psychology Conference, Brisbane Queensland
2016 Michalski,D, Heyer,R, Semmler,CA, 2016, Facial comparisons with images of children: Human and algorithm performance, Annual meeting of the Biometrics Institute, London, United Kingdom
2014 Ong,B, Semmler,C, Mansfield,P, 2014, Cultivating healthy skepticism towards help-seeking advertisements: Dispelling the illusion of unique invulnerability, Annual Meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Austin, Texas
2013 Ong,B, Semmler,C, Mansfield,P, 2013, Dispelling the illusion of unique invulnerability: Cultivating healthy scepticism towards disease awareness advertisements, Australasian Experimental Psychology Conference, Adelaide, S.A.
2012 Woolford,D, Alais,D, Best,V, Semmler,CA, Niall,PD, 2012, Hearing, the Perception of Sound and Expert Evidence in Litigation, Acoustics, Development and the Environment, Fremantle, Perth, WA
2009 Semmler,C, Ashenden,A, 2009, Testing a cognitive consistency account of the postidentification feedback effect, Biennial Conference of the Society of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, Kyoto, Japan

Report for External Bodies

Date Citation
2012 Ma-Wyatt,A, Semmler,C, Heyer,R, Macleod,V, 2012, Improving human operator performance for face biometric identification: Final report

Semmler, C. Human Aspects of Video Analytics Under ARCHIi. 2017. $21,405. DST Group.

Semmler, C., Hendrickson, A. Heyer, R., van den Hengel, A., & Dick, A. Understanding Human-Technology Interactions to Aid in the Use of Unconstrained Imagery for Identification and Surveillance. 2016 - 2017. $19,500. Interdisciplinary Research Fund, University of Adelaide.

Semmler, C. (Chief Investigator), Dunn, J., Mickes, L., & Wixted,J. A formal signal detection model of eyewitness identification. 2016 - 2018. $176,000. Australian Research Council Discovery Projects.

Semmler, C. & MaWyatt, A. Improving human operator capability for face biometric identification and recognition. 2010-2011, $70,000. Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Research Support for National Security.

Semmler, C. (Chief Investigator) Brewer, N., & Douglass, A.B. The distortion of eyewitness identification testimony. 2010-2012, $230,000, Australian Research Council Discovery Projects.

Douglass, A.B., Brewer, N., & Semmler, C.(Partner Investigator) The dynamic interaction between investigator and eyewitness: Effects of memory reports and interviewer behavior. 2009-2011, $200,000. National Science Foundation (USA).

Brewer, N., Young, R.L., Weber, N., Ma-Wyatt, A., Semmler, C., (Partner Investigator) & McKinnon, R. A multi-function eyetracker facility. 2008, $120,000. Australian Research Council – Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities Grant.

Semmler, C. (Chief Investigator) The effects of postidentification feedback on eyewitness confidence.2007, $15,000. Faculty of Health Sciences Research Grant.

Semmler, C. (PI) Improving witness memory for faces through rehearsal strategy. 2005, $11,500, Flinders Research Grants Scheme.

Co-Facilitator (2015-2016: Small Group Discovery Experience Community of Practice

Teaching Responsibilities:

Program Coordinator: Psychology Honours (Teaching into; Psychol 4201/4301: Research Methods and Statistics/ Psychol 4202/4302: Current Issues in Psychology/ Psychol 4200A/B/4300A/B: Research Seminar/ PSYCHOL 4209/4309: Mind, Brain & Behaviour)

Psychol 1004: Research Methods in Psychology (Statistics and Ethics)

Psychol 2006: Foundations of Perception and Cognition (Decision Making)

Psychol 3023: Perception and Cognition (Metacognition)

Current PhD Candidates:

Charlotte Scobie: Individual Differences in Epistimological Orientation and Juror Evaluation of Forensic Science

Alexandre Forndran: Juror Decision Making in the Presence of Forensic Bias

Dana Michalski:  The Effects of Age and Age-Image Gap on Human and Machine Face Matching Performance

Matthew Kaesler: Costs and Benefits in Eyewitness Identification Procedures

Recently Completed PhDs

Dr Elizabeth Fontaine (2016): Narrative Recall in an Investigative Interview: Insight into Witness Metacognition

Dr Adella Bhaskara (2015): Differential Effects of Confirming Post-Identification Feedback on Eyewitness Testimony Relevant Judgments (Dean's Commendation for Doctoral Thesis Excellence)

Dr Rebecca Heyer (2014): Understanding One-to-Many Unfamiliar Face Matching in the Operational Context (Dean's Commendation for Doctoral Thesis Excellence, Frank Dalziel Prize)

Dr Brennan Ong (2014): Dispelling the Illusion of Unique Invulnerability to Pharmaceutical Company Marketing: An Educational Intervention (Dean's Commendation for Doctoral Thesis Excellence)


Date Role Membership Country
2016 Member Cognitive Science Society United States
2001 Member Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition United States


Date Institution Department Organisation Type Country
2015 - 2015 Government of South Australia South Australian Employment Tribunal Continuing Education Instructional and training Australia
2008 - 2008 Department of Education and Training SACE Instructional and training Australia
Senior Lecturer
8313 3770
North Terrace
Hughes Building
Room Number
5 07
Org Unit