Why in the World Would Someone Confess to A Crime That They Did Not Commit?
Date:  01-21-2015

Research provides an answer to this troubling phenomenon
Many of us have heard about a person confessing to crime and then, days or years later--often after a conviction lands them or her in prison, they proclaim their innocence. “Yeah, sure,” we say, as we roll our eyes in disbelief. People just don’t go around confessing to a crime unless they are guilty. Or do they?

Researchers in the United Kingdom have discovered that how a person is interrogated can convince a person that he or she actually committed a crime, and hence coax a confession from them based on false memories. The U.K study is important in that it shows how unscrupulous law enforcement agents, desperate to solve a crime, can use false memories to convict an innocent person.

The researchers found that it is not necessarily people with low intelligence that will confess to something they did not do. The study included college students and some of them formed false memories after they were told that they committed certain acts, criminal or otherwise. All it takes to plant false memories in some people is about 3 hours in a low-key setting and an interviewer who adds a few wrong details and uses “poor memory- retrieval techniques” to get a person to make a false confession.

From the Association for Psychological Science:

Evidence from some wrongful-conviction cases suggests that suspects can be questioned in ways that lead them to falsely believe in and confess to committing crimes they didn’t actually commit. New research provides lab-based evidence for this phenomenon, showing that innocent adult participants can be convinced, over the course of a few hours, that they had perpetrated crimes as serious as assault with a weapon in their teenage years.

The research, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, indicates that the participants came to internalize the stories they were told, providing rich and detailed descriptions of events that never actually took place.

“Our findings show that false memories of committing crime with police contact can be surprisingly easy to generate, and can have all the same kinds of complex details as real memories,” says psychological scientist and lead researcher Julia Shaw of the University of Bedfordshire in the UK.

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