False Confessions

Psychologists, in particular Gudjonsson and MacKeith (e.g. 1988), have drawn attention to the possibility that some individuals may confess to crimes they have not committed. These 'false confessions' may be a consequence of characteristics similar to those that make witnesses vulnerable, such as heightened emotional state and low intellectual ability, making the suspect more willing to accept suggestions from the interviewer (cf. Gudjonsson, 2001). Gudjonsson has developed a measure of a person's 'suggestibility' that has been drawn on by the courts around the world to support claims of a false confession (Gudjonsson, 1984). These may also be a product of cultural processes rather than aspects of personality in which, for example, groups from certain ethnic minorities may deem it essential to agree with whatever a person in authority, such as a police officer, says to them (Gudjonsson, Rutter and Clare, 1995). Investigative psychologists have also considered the ways in which false confessions may be produced in response to various forms of psychological or physical coercion. However, all this work suffers from the practical difficulties of ever being certain that a confession really was false, so the impact of this approach often owes more to the predilections of particular jurisdictions than to the unchallengeable validity of the research on which it is based.

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