Newring, K. A. B., & O’Donohue, W. (2008). False confessions and influenced witness
Statements. Applied Psychology in Criminal Justice, 4(1), 81-107.
False confessions and false witness accounts is a reality in any criminal investigation, in fact most of those who had been wrongfully charged with a criminal offense had been because of false confessions that has been coerced or influenced by interrogation techniques. Human memory is generally inaccurate especially in highly stressful and anxiety laden events or situations, thus a witness may remember details or information that was not really there or to falsely accuse someone based on what they thought they witnessed or observed. Likewise, a suspect may be prone to suggestion when he/she is confronted with an information that he/she is not sure they remembered doing or not. As such, false confessions and false witness statements can evidently color or influence the direction of the investigation and may cause irreparable damage to the falsely accused suspect or suspect who had falsely confessed as well as to the resolution of the criminal act.
Previous researches had found that police interviews and interrogations had led to false witness statements and false confessions by suspects. Although, investigators have been trained to differentiate interviews from interrogations, the possibility that investigator suggestions may influence witness and suspect responses is very real. One of the most widely used interview and interrogation protocol is known as the Reid technique (Inbau, Reid, Buckley & Jayne, 2001) which follows a nine-step procedure that started with direct, positive confrontation and ended with the conversion of an oral confession/statement to a written one. Criticisms of the Reid technique include the likely effect of investigator influence to the responses of the witness or suspect.
A study by Kassin and Kiechel (1996) using the computer-crash method demonstrated that all of the participants in the fast paced experimental task admitted to committing something they did not do. It was concluded that highly stressful, distressing, and high-pressure situations would influence the witness to falsely confess, falsely accuse, or confabulate details of the offensive act. In a similar research by Horselenberg, Merckelbach, and Josephs (2003) wherein there was an increase in the cost of committing false confessions, it was still reported that majority of participants confessed when faced with a supposed witness or evidence, while some confabulated details of the act. As such, that false evidences and pressure would lead to false confessions.
The purpose of the present research is to extend the research on false confessions to eyewitness behavior in the likelihood of committing false witness statements or accusations. Very few researches has been conducted on the impact of police interview methods to witness statements, this study specifically answers the question of whether the use of police interview tactics can lead to the participant falsely incriminating a peer.b.
This study employs the experimental paradigm in creating the conditions in which false confessions can be elicited. The study utilized a parallel within-subjects design using the computer-crash method for suspects and witnesses. The data from the two groups was then compared within the same group in order to find out in what ways and in what situations witnesses and suspects are likely to make false confessions and statements.c.
The present study employed the Reid tactic used by police investigators in interviewing potential suspects and witnesses. The responses of the participants in the interview following the computer-crash were rated into no confession, confabulated and compliant. The ratings were done by observer raters in which agreement was attained for each participant responses.d.
An example of a research finding arrived at by deductive logic in this study is when the researchers found that the Reid tactic of interviewing resulted to false confessions of participants and thus it could also possibly lead to false witness statements or accusations by participants. Thus, if false witness statements are used as basis for further investigation, then it would also yield false evidentiary circumstances that limit the criminal investigation. Using inductive logic, the study found that the low-pressure approach of interviewing witnesses and suspects resulted to falsely incriminating themselves.e.
This research is quantitative in the sense that it assigned quantitative values for the responses of the participants as well as the scores of the different tests that the participants were asked to complete. The data was also statistically analyzed using the chi-square which is a quantitative tool. Although, it could be argued that since the responses of the participants were the sole source of data used to answer the research question and that it was elicited using open-ended questions using a structure interview protocol, it would be possible for this study to be qualitative in nature.
This study used an experimental method called the computer-crash method as the source of offensive behavior, the conditions of which allowed the researchers to measure witness and suspect responses to the designed interview procedure. The participants of the study were 52 female college students of a university in Reno; they were recruited through online notices and flyers as well as in announcements in social science classes in the university. The participants were then randomly assigned to two groups, suspects, or witnesses. Of the participants in both groups, only 1 in the suspect group did not complete the interview.
g.The findings of the study indicated that 12 out of the 26 participants in the suspect group confessed to causing the computer crash during the interview even when they did not actually do it. Also, it was found that 12 out of the 26 participants in the witness group falsely accused or implicated their peers in causing the computer crash during the interview. It was also found that there were no significant differences between the groups depression scores, suggestibility index, cognitive ability and distress scores thus it was not used as mitigating participant characteristics to the manipulated behavior in the experiment.
The researchers concluded that a relatively low-pressure interview condition such as the one they designed in this study could still result to false confessions and false witness accusations. Thus, how more likely it would be for highly distressing and high-pressure interviews to yield the same false statements and confessions. The authors however recommended that future studies should look into the limitations of the present study such that all of the participants were female, there were no incidence of confabulation, the computer-crash method seem to be outdated considering the technical knowledge of most students, the Reid tactic for interviewing was not really followed but modified to suit the conditions necessary for maintaining control of the experimental conditions and finally the lack of training of the interviewers used in the experiment.i.
The study could have been improved by priming the participants to the possible consequences that the computer-crash would do to the research study. As such, a sense of responsibility would be inspired in the participants and thus taking accountability for the crash would not be an easy one to make. In addition, the study could have incorporated the attribution theory in the sense that witnesses and suspects are more likely to implicate others than themselves. Given that the computer-crash could have been easily committed by the participants, it could have been made more believable by taking the confirmatory approach rather than confronting the participants. By confronting the participants and asking them what happened, the participants would generally explain what they thought happened, by confirming that the suspect caused the crash, and then the participant would either confess or deny it. Thus giving a more accurate response that did not needed to be agreed upon limiting the possible effect of rater bias.
Newring, K. A. B., & O’Donohue, W. (2008). False confessions and influenced witness
statements [Electronic Version]. Applied Psychology in Criminal Justice, 4(1), 81-107. Retrieved from http://www.apcj.org/Volume4Issue1Article3.htm