Study Offers Disturbing False Confession Insights
Follow @GretchenMargAugust 12, 2011, 12:57 pm ET
It’s remarkably easy to confess to something you didn’t do, and more people are inclined to do so than you might think.
This according to new research on false confessions, smartly analyzed in the latest issue of The Economist. One particularly telling study [PDF] was conducted by renown false confession researcher Saul Kassin and Jennifer Perillo out of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The researchers took a common interrogation technique known as the Reid Technique (here’s a great Robert Kolker piece in New York magazine on its history and controversy) and applied them to student volunteers who were told they were being tested on reaction times. The students were warned about a kink in the computer system:
Then Kassin and Perillo added a twist that mimics the real-life role of a witness or informant:
And what if the accused thinks there’s DNA or other solid evidence that can exonerate them? Kassin and Perillo found disturbing results in these cases as well:
So what can happen when the stakes are much higher than data being lost on a computer? The Economist soberly points out that a fourth of the 271 people exonerated by the Innocence Project with DNA evidence confessed or pleaded guilty to crimes they did not commit. In addition, our 2010 investigation into the “Norfolk Four” offers up a particularly jaw-dropping case study of false confessions gone terribly awry.
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