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Rachel Zajac

Tel +64 3 479 3988

Professor Rachel Zajac was appointed as a faculty member in 2003, after completing a PhD and a Postgraduate Diploma in Clinical Psychology in the Department.

Rachel teaches in both child development and in forensic psychology. In 2015, she was awarded an Otago Award for Excellence in Teaching, as well as the Division of Sciences Award for Senior Teacher of the Year. In 2016, she received an Ako Aotearoa national award for tertiary teaching excellence, and in 2017 she was named OUSA Premier Lecturer in the Division of Sciences.

In her research, Rachel studies the psychological factors involved in the investigation of crime. She focuses predominantly on children's and adults' eyewitness testimony, social influences on memory and decision-making, and biases in the interpretation of forensic evidence. Rachel has received three Marsden grants as a Principal Investigator, and a fourth as Associate Investigator. Her work has also been funded by the former Foundation for Research in Science and Technology (FRST), and the US National Institute of Justice.

Rachel is frequently called on to advise New Zealand judges, lawyers, and forensic scientists on memory and decision-making in criminal and legal investigations. She has provided expert evidence for criminal cases in New Zealand, Australia, the US. She is the Co-Director of the Innocence Project New Zealand, and is closely involved with the New Zealand Police, where she contributes to benchmarking practice, procedural review, and training. Rachel's research on memory—and in particular on the cross-examination process—has been used in police and judicial education programmes in the UK and Australia, and in the US Supreme Court as scientific evidence. In 2018, she received the inaugural Division of Sciences Award for Professional Engagement.


Research Interests

  • Eyewitness evidence
  • Social influences on memory
  • Psychological factors in the interpretation of forensic evidence

Find out more about Professor Zajac's research interests


Jordan, K., Nielsen, N. P., Bernstein, D., Newman, E., Zajac, R., & Garry, M. (2024). Den mørke side af semantisk kontekst [the dark side of semantic context]: Semantic context boosts people’s confidence in their ability to comprehend Danish. Journal of Applied Research in Memory & Cognition. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/mac0000154 Journal - Research Article

Kinley, K., & Zajac, R. (2023). Cognitive sophistication in adults’ memories of childhood: Implications for historical allegations of child sexual abuse. Proceedings of the Psycolloquy Symposium. (pp. 12). Dunedin, New Zealand: Department of Psychology, University of Otago. Retrieved from Conference Contribution - Published proceedings: Abstract

Garry, M., Zajac, R., Hope, L., Salathé, M., Levine, L., & Merritt, T. A. (2023). Hits and misses: Digital contact tracing in a pandemic. Perspectives on Psychological Science. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/17456916231179365 Journal - Research Article

Zajac, R., Garry, M., Charlton, S., & Reese, E. (2023). Scholarship amid sheep: Applied cognition research in Aotearoa New Zealand. Journal of Applied Research in Memory & Cognition, 12, 43-47. doi: 10.1037/mac0000109 Journal - Research Article

Westera, N., Gentle, M., Powell, M., & Zajac, R. (2023). Police investigators' perceptions of the challenges associated with interviewing adult sexual assault complainants. Violence Against Women, 29(2), 276-299. doi: 10.1177/10778012221120447 Journal - Research Article

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