Instructing witnesses that a criminal may have changed appearance prior to showing them a lineup has been shown to increase false identifications without increasing correct identifications (S. D. Charman & G. L. Wells, 2007, Is the appearance-change instruction a good idea? Law and Human Behavior, Vol. 31, pp. 3-22). However, the generalizability of the effects of this appearance-change instruction (ACI) is unknown, and there are reasons to believe that the instruction's effects may be moderated by the amount of appearance change the criminal has actually undergone. The current study tested this hypothesis. Undergraduate students (N = 315) were exposed to a series of target faces and lineups, some of which contained the target and some of which did not, and made identification decisions. Half of the participants received a standard ACI prior to each lineup; the other half did not. The targets varied with respect to the amount to which their appearance had changed. Results indicated that the ACI inflated false identifications without inflating correct identifications, and that these effects did not depend on the amount of appearance change the target had undergone. Current recommendations to administer the ACI seem to be unfounded and may be harmful to the reliability of identification evidence.
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