Tag Archive: false memories

How to Convince Someone They’ve Committed a Crime

Interrogation-RoomA new study finds that providing true details mixed with a fake event convinces two in three the story was real.

From Pacific Standard

It’s not uncommon for police suspects, worn down after long hours of hostile police interrogation, to confess to crimes they didn’t commit. Stranger still, a new report suggests that, with some concrete detail and the strong assertion that they did in fact commit the crime, those suspects might actually believe they’re guilty.

Motivated in part by revelations of major mistakes and outright abuse on the part of police, researchers have spent a lot of time grappling with false confessions in recent years. Among the things criminologists and psychologists have discovered, a good number of suspects in the interrogation room come to actually believe they’ve committed the crime in question—something known as a persuaded false confession. Often, those confessions result from investigators providing specific details of a crime or suggesting ways a crime may have gone down, which psychologists suspect creates a framework a person can unwittingly use to construct false memories, and the ensuing false confession. But how susceptible is the average person to that kind of thinking?

Pretty susceptible, argue Julia Shaw and Stephen Porter. After getting approval from 126 undergraduates, Shaw and Porter contacted their parents for details of emotional events from those students’ childhoods. The researchers first screened out students who’d experienced one of six events—assaulting someone, assaulting someone with a weapon, committing theft, being in an accident, being attacked by an animal, and losing a great deal of money. Next, they told 60 students who’d made it through the screening that they actually had been involved in one of the six events. To bolster their case, they incorporated details from actual events into a description of fictional happenings. (more…)