False confession fishing in the lab

We’ve covered false confessions and how surprisingly common they are several times before on Mind Hacks but a new article from The Economist updates us on the latest lab studies.

DNA crime investigators The Innocence Project have discovered that about 25% of DNA exonerations have involved the accused making a false confession at the time of conviction.

This has sparked a great deal of interest into why people admit to crimes they haven’t committed and, along with studying real-life cases, researchers have been trying to encourage false confessions in the lab to see what influences the behaviour.

The Economist has a brief round-up of some of the most interesting lab studies.

In an as-yet-unpublished study, members of Dr Horselenberg’s group told 83 people that they were taking part in a taste test for a supermarket chain. The top taster would win a prize such as an iPad or a set of DVDs. The volunteers were asked to try ten cans of fizzy drink and guess which was which. The labels were obscured by socks pulled up to the rim of each can, so to cheat a volunteer had only to lower the sock.

During the test, which was filmed by a hidden camera, ten participants actually did cheat. Bafflingly, though, another eight falsely confessed when accused by the experimenter, despite participants having been told cheats would be fined €50 ($72).


Link to The Economist ‘False confessions: Silence is golden’.

2 thoughts on “False confession fishing in the lab”

  1. Hi Vaughan,

    I am just rereading the book “Mistakes were made but not by me” and I find it fascinating how fragile our memories and testimony can be.

    Such a huge potential for abuse – conscious or unconscious – especially when in the deadly combination with the confirmation bias.

    Thanks a lot for pointing this new study out to me, I’ll be waiting for more on this 😉


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