False confession: Study shows that memories of fabricated crimes are easily planted
June 23, 2015
Wrongful conviction stories abound in the news these days as DNA evidence is being used more frequently to reopen cases, some of them decades-old. Groups like
The Innocence Project
are drawing attention to those who have been wrongly convicted of crimes and helping to exonerate them. In many of these stories, those falsely accused of crimes maintained their innocence, filing appeals and talking to anyone who would listen in an effort to have their cases heard.
But what about convictions in which the accused has confessed to the crime and believes in his or her own guilt? How could an innocent person be persuaded to confess to a crime he or she didn’t commit?
Quite easily, according to
a new study
by Julia Shaw, a lecturer in forensic psychology from the University of Bedfordshire, and Stephen Porter, a forensic psychologist at the University of British Columbia. In an article in the January 2015 issue of the journal
, Shaw and Porter describe the method by which they were able to implant false memories of committing a crime into the minds of college-age adults who volunteered for their study.
Participants were screened to exclude those who had any previous history of law-breaking. Shaw and Porter sent questionnaires to participants’ parents to gather background information (e.g., the names of friends, details about their hometowns) that the researchers could use in the stories they fabricated about the “crime.” During the course of the experiment, which included three 45-minute interviews several days apart, participants were not permitted to communicate with their parents.
In the interviews, Shaw asked each participant to talk about a true, emotional experience from his or her early teen years; then, she prompted participants to “remember” an invented crime such as assault that led to an encounter with the police. During the interviews, Shaw maintained a friendly, nonthreatening rapport, offering to help jog memories about the false crime with details from the true event and information gleaned from the parent questionnaire.
The results surprised even the researchers: of 30 participants in the study, 21 developed a false memory of the event, and 11 reported elaborate details of their interactions with the police following their imagined crimes. “We thought we’d have something like a thirty percent success rate, and we ended up having over seventy,” Shaw said in a March 5, 2015
The New Yorker
. “We only had a handful of people who didn’t believe us.” In one example, a participant developed a detailed story about a love triangle that turned into a rock-throwing incident. “It was very emotional,” Shaw said. “Each time she’d re-enact the event, the rock would fill her hand a little bit more.”
The study has serious implications for law enforcement. “No department wants the image of locking up innocent people,” said
, public information officer for the San Francisco Police Department, responding to questions about the study from NPR’s Nathan Siegel. Esparza asserts that the “good cop, bad cop” routine is mostly a figment of Hollywood’s imagination, and that police departments are highly motivated to find the real perpetrators of crime. Yet the methods used by Shaw—gathering background information about the accused, drawing connections between that information and a crime, and even lying about facts and witnesses—are all perfectly legal for use by law enforcement in the U.S.
It seems that even when the stakes are high, people are still very susceptible to the influence of an authority figure who is questioning them. In their
, Shaw and Porter conclude, “It appears that in the context of a highly suggestive interview, people can quite readily generate rich false memories of committing crime.”
What do you think? What are the implications of police officers using suggestive interview techniques, and when do those techniques cross the line into coercion? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!
Share this post:
Is Hypnosis Useful for Retrieving Lost Memories?
Among academics and mental health professionals, there is a widespread belief that hypnosis has the power to retrieve lost memories. In 1980, Elizabeth and Geoffrey Loftus found that 84% of psychologists and 69% of non-psychologists endorsed the statement that “memory is permanently stored in the mind” and that “with hypnosis, or other specialized techniques, these inaccessible details could eventually be recovered.” The idea of whether people can truly forget traumatic memories has been debated for years. Early psychologists and psychiatrists such as Sigmund Freud, Joseph Breuer, and Pierre Janet also endorsed the memory-enhancing powers of hypnosis. In addition, belief in the power of hypnosis has spilled over into the mainstream with the help of TV shows, movies, and books. However, experts in general agree that “hypnosis either has no effect on memory or that it can impair and distort recall.” While people can certainly remember events they haven’t thought about for years, the issue at question is whether a special mechanism of repression exists that accounts for the forgetting of traumatic experiences. While there are many reports of people who seem ...
Stress levels highest for youngest adults, study shows
A recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association found that the generation known as Millennials, defined as 18- to 33-year-olds in the U.S., reported the highest stress levels along with the most stress-caused ill effects among the four groups surveyed. On a 10-point scale, Millennials reported an average stress level of 5.4, the same as that reported by individuals in Generation X (ages 34-47 years). However, more than 52 percent of Millennials reported stress-induced sleeplessness, compared to 48 percent of Generation Xers, 37 percent of Boomers (ages 48-66 years) and 25 percent of Matures (67 years and older). In addition, more Millennials and Generation Xers reported anger and irritability due to stress than Boomers or Matures. Stress is a risk factor for many health conditions, including high blood pressure, headaches, sleeping problems, heart disease, ulcers, and stroke. It’s not hard to understand why young Americans are on edge. Work was named as a “somewhat or significant stressor for 76 percent of Millennials,” and the U.S. unemployment rate is 7.9 percent. Thirty-nine percent of Millennials have experienced an increase in stress over ...
Football Fans Eat More High-Fat Food after their Team Loses, Study Says
It goes without saying that typical game-day snacks are not the healthiest fare. But a recent study suggests that football fans who root for a losing team are more likely to eat unhealthful, high-calorie foods—even the day after the game. On the flip side, fans of a winning team are likely to make better food choices than they normally do. “Backing a losing team isn’t just bad for your pride,” says National Public Radio’s science correspondent Shankar Vedantam in a recent broadcast called Diet of Defeat. “It’s bad for your waistline.” The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, was conducted by marketing researchers at the international business school INSEAD. Authors Yann Cornil and Pierre Chandon explain, “Using archival and experimental data, we showed that vicarious defeats experienced by fans when their favorite football team loses lead them to consume less healthy food. On the Mondays following a Sunday National Football League (NFL) game, saturated-fat and food-calorie intake increase significantly in cities with losing teams, decrease in cities with winning teams, and remain at their usual levels in comparable cities ...
Extroverts Vs. Introverts: New Study Examines their Perceived Value in the Workplace
A recent study by researchers from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management suggests that although extroverts are initially held in higher esteem in the workplace, self-described neurotics and those who are socially withdrawn tend to gain respect over time while their outwardly confident co-workers lose status. As time passes, neurotics tend to exceed expectations and are perceived as hard workers, while extroverts are seen to coast—and this is the case even if the two groups make similar contributions. In a recent New York Times article, lead author Corinne Bendersky describes her findings and suggests that the patterns she found reflect the value of creating low expectations. Bendersky’s study included two parts. In the first part, graduate students completed a survey about their own personalities and how they viewed others in their work groups. Initially, the more confident students were perceived as being stronger contributors. But when the survey was repeated ten weeks later, the perception of the introverts had improved, while the extroverts lost status. In the second part of the study, students were presented with a hypothetical situation: a co-worker named ...
Find a career that fits with the new WVI
As the old adage goes, “Find a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life.” Though you may be passionate about a particular career or field of study, how do you know it will really make you happy? Nothing could be worse than studying for years to become a financial trader on Wall Street, for example, only to discover the first day on the job that you prefer a quieter, more stable, and more predictable type of working environment. When considering a career, knowing more about what type of environment you prefer can impact job satisfaction. Do you prefer to work on a team or independently? Do you like positions of leadership? Do you desire recognition for a job well done? Do you want a supportive employer? These are all aspects about yourself as an employee that you may not even realize. Employees who are a good fit have been shown to be happier, stay longer in a position, and be more productive. The Work Values Inventory™ (WVI™) is a new test that measures work values (also ...
New Study Will Test Effectiveness of Alzheimer’s Prevention Drug
In the search for more effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, a new clinical trial will test whether a prevention drug has any effect on patients who are genetically predisposed to develop the disease, but who don’t yet exhibit symptoms. In the study, scientists are focusing on members of a large, extended family in Medellín, Colombia, some of whom have a specific genetic mutation that is linked to early-onset dementia. The trial will be “the first to focus on people who are cognitively normal but at very high risk for Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in a May 15 interview with the New York Times. Members of the Colombian family who have the genetic mutation begin showing cognitive impairment around age 45 and develop full dementia by age 51. Three hundred family members, some as young as age 30, will participate in the initial trial. The five-year study is a collaboration between the NIH, the nonprofit Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, Genentech (maker of the drug crenezumab, which will be used in the trial), ...
About PAR (61)
Community PARtners (28)
Meet the Author (24)
New Products (84)
PAR Author (63)
PAR Staff (38)
Let's talk assessment in our LinkedIn group!
Congrats to the NASP TSP Poster Winners!
New BRIEF-P white paper available!
Join PAR for a super NASP in Atlanta!
We are on the way to INS!
Read More »
career interest inventory
post-traumatic stress disorder