Does Anyone Else Look Familiar? Influencing Identification Decisions by Asking Witnesses to Re-Examine the Lineup

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Abstract

Two experiments were conducted to see if asking witnesses to take another look at the lineup after they voiced their identification decisions would alter their choices, and if confirming feedback could then be used to solidify the selections they shifted to. Participants watched a simulated crime and were asked to identify the culprit from a photographic lineup. After voicing their identification decisions, participants were prompted to re-examine the lineup. Half of the participants then received confirming feedback for their decisions, regardless of whether they shifted to a new picture or not. Later on, a different experimenter escorted participants to a second room and administered the same lineup again. In Experiment 1 (N = 432), biased instructions were used to encourage choosing, and when participants were prompted to re-examine the lineup, 70% changed their identification decisions and selected a different picture. When that new selection was reinforced with feedback and participants were given a second opportunity to identify the culprit at a later time, 72% selected the picture they shifted to as the culprit. Participants who made their decisions more quickly were less likely to shift, but accuracy did not predict shifting. This general pattern of findings was replicated using unbiased instructions in Experiment 2 (N = 237). Results suggest that prompting witnesses to re-examine the lineup can often lead witnesses to change their identification decisions, and when the altered choice is reinforced, they will often stay with that influenced decision over time, asserting it with a high degree of confidence.

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