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Psychological study shows evidence for false confessions

Many people believe that some wrongful conviction cases in New Jersey are the result of false confessions. A recent study that was published in a journal of the Association for Psychological Science has now established lab-based evidence for the idea that unethical interview techniques can make people confess to crimes they did not actually commit. In addition to confessing, innocent participants in the study developed detailed false memories about the imagined events.

The lead researcher in the study, a psychological scientist from the University of Bedfordshire in the United Kingdom, said that planting false memories about committing a crime into study participants' heads was surprisingly easy. Using poor memory-retrieval techniques, interviewers were able to obtain a false criminal confession from 71 percent of study participants after subjecting them to three 40-minute interviews. When other participants in the study were asked to recall a non-criminal emotional event that never happened, about 77 percent of them developed false memories.

According to researchers in the study, the findings could have a substantial impact on what types of interrogation techniques are used in criminal cases. Researchers now understand that seemingly 'normal' people can be led to confess to crimes that they never committed if a few true details are incorporated into the fictitious story.

Those who believe that they were led to confess to a crime that they never committed might want to seek help from an attorney who defends clients against criminal charges. By referencing the false memory study described above and other evidence, the attorney may be able to help establish that a false confession was drawn out of the defendant through coercive interview techniques and should be excluded.

Source: Association for Psychological Science, "People Can Be Convinced They Committed a Crime That Never Happened", Jan. 15, 2015

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