Heads or Tails: Innocent or Guilty

Sep 24, 08 Heads or Tails: Innocent or Guilty

A review of:

Kassin, S.M. (2008). False confessions: Causes, consequences, and implications for reform. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17(4), 249-253.
by Heather Goddard

Scientific Research is showing that a confession, either truthful or false, can not be differentiated by experts trained in detecting lies. In an earlier article, Bond & DePaulo (2006) found that people can accurately detect truth and deception 54% of the time and specialized training appears to have minimal, if any, impact.
In a similar study by Kassin and Fog (1999), participants were assigned to two groups; one group was trained in a method of police lie detection and the other group received no training. The participants then watched tapes of suspects denying their involvement in mock crimes. The participants trained in lie detection were “less effective, more confident, and more biased” (Kassin, 2008) than the control group in distinguishing guilty suspects and innocence suspects.
Kassin also cites a study by Meissner and Kassin (2002) who conducted a follow-up study where experienced detectives watched the same tapes of mock crimes. Surprisingly, the experienced detectives demonstrated similar mistakes in differentiating guilt from innocence, and were just as biased.
People confess to crimes for a number of reasons with false confessions accounting for 20 to 25% of prisoners exonerated by DNA evidence (Kassin, 2008). DNA exonerations imply that interrogation procedures of presenting false evidence may encourage the innocent to confess. These interrogation tactics used by police suggest there is substantial evidence such as fingerprints or eyewitness identification in attempt to strengthen their case.
Police interrogation combines the psychological processes of isolation, confrontation, and minimization. Although the ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine has been all too often dramatized in the media; it appears to be a harsh reality. Further research shows that many innocent individuals who confess may begin to believe that they did in fact commit the crime.

So why do the innocent confess? The research conducted by Kassin (2008) shows that some people are more vulnerable than others. Individuals who are eager to please, highly suggestible, anxious, delusional, mentally retarded, or psychologically disordered are more likely to confess under pressure.
Adolescents also seem susceptible to false confessions.Other reasons for voluntary confessions are “a pathological need for attention or self-punishment, feelings of guilt or delusions, the perception of tangible gain, or the desire to protect someone else” (Kassin, 2008). In addition, innocent individuals are prone to false confessions. Because they believe that truth will prevail, people who are innocent are more likely to waive their rights and cooperate with police not realizing they are actually under suspicion (Kassin, 2008).

Furthermore, confessions have significant impact on a jury’s decision. Research suggests that even when a false confession is retracted in court, the jury is still likely to convict. One study suggests that rates of convictions for innocent confessors are as high as 81% (Kassin, 2008). When compared against this research, the cannons of law that we take for granted “innocent until proven guilty” appear to be nothing more than a catch phrase. We are in need of a serious overhaul in the way police interrogate suspects and how jurors evaluate confessions.
To cite this review, please use this reference:
Goddard, H. N. (2008). Heads or Tails: Innocent or Guilty, Psychology Alert (1). http://psychologyalert.com/2008/09/heads-or-tails-innocent-or-guilty.html