What Motivates False Confessions Research Paper Samples

Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: Stress, Crime, Education, Social Issues, Accused, Polygraph, Investigation, Information

Pages: 7

Words: 1925

Published: 2020/11/29


According to research some of the most popular deception detection methods of interrogation such as the Reid Techniques and polygraph methods have been wrongly used to implicate innocent individuals into crime they did not commit. The imperfections of these methods, in addition to the weakness of an accused became a powerful way to elicit false information. Coercive interrogations have the dominating impact on people, so that the stressful situation of the investigation process can make him admit guilt, more from his want to be out of the trying circumstances. Stress can also have an impact to the neurological system, often resulting to the recall of false memory.
Keywords: Reid Techniques, interrogation, polygraph, false memory


According to statistics provided by the Innocence Project, an organization that uses DNA testing with the objective of exonerating individuals who are wrongly convicted, about 8 to 12 percent of all prisoners at the state level are actually or factually innocent. In another statistics, about 30% of those who are exonerated through DNA testing confessed to the commitment of the crime. But what prompted these individuals to plead guilty or confess to a crime they did not commit? Several researches revealed that confessions and the pleading of guilt during interrogation are not a result of actual guilt but that there are outside factors that influence the individual to confess.

Deception Detection Techniques and False Confessions

Crime investigators used diverse methods in order to obtain confession from the accused, all with the intent of gathering evidence against the suspect and making him admit to a criminal act. There are instances however, when the interrogation techniques would psychologically motivate the accused to plead guilty for a crime he did not commit. This is due to imperfection of several techniques used by investigators in eliciting confessions. There are many cases when an accused has unduly serve imprisonment as a result of flaws inherent in some interrogation techniques such as the Polygraph test, coupled with coercive interrogations such as the Reid Technique.

The Polygraph Tests

Another technique used by investigators in eliciting evidence is the polygraph tests. The test is administered to establish if the subject is telling the truth during the interview. The test includes a number of sensors attached to the individual, with the polygraph machine recording the signals from the sensors in the strip of a moving paper. The polygraph machine is tasks to record the breathing and pulse rate, as well as the blood pressure and perspiration. The interviewee would then answer a series of question and the bodily signals are reflected in the polygraph machine. Throughout the test, the examiner observes the machine indicators for vital changes during the questioning process. Any sign of significant fluctuation from the sensors; increased perspiration and faster heartbeat would alert the examiner (Maschke & Scalabrini).
The polygraph test despite its widespread usage has its imperfections. Scholars had been advocating that the innocence of a person does not make him psychologically and emotionally prepared for a polygraph, making him show signals of guilt despite being innocent. According to the Innocence Project, it was discovered that there are wrongful convictions that resulted from the use of polygraph tests. For one, some researches indicated that the standard of administering the examination is not often followed by most examiners, thus, laying the ground for the risks of erroneous outcome. In most cases, the result of the polygraph examinations are not often reviewed by other bodies, the result rests mainly on the test result and the conviction of the examiner. In addition to that is the fact that despite the inconclusive result of the tests, the outcome is treated during the interrogation as factual. The imperfection of this test calls that it cannot be used to vindicate guilt or innocence: as stated by scholars, expert deceivers can manipulate the result of lie detector apparatus and so it follows that the lie detector can misinterpret human reactions.

Effect of Coercive Interrogations

The interrogation process is an unbalanced form of an information flow, in a way that the interrogator asked questions with the intent to get information needed during the investigation process. The respondent on the other hand, especially if he is the accused, seeks to answer in a way to protect his wellbeing. With the knowledge that the respondent may not easily collaborate with the interrogator, the later may use diverse tricks in order to accomplish his goals. The accused, even as innocent, may in turn give in to the interrogative techniques simply to immediately get away from the pressures of interrogations. False confessions may arise due to the pressure of the investigation and the want to be able to get over the situation as soon as possible. In some researches, the instances of false confession came from the juveniles and those that are mentally incapacitated. Their inexperience and inability to stand pressure makes them vulnerable to confess guilt even to crimes they did not commit.

The Reid Technique

The Reid Techniques is a manner of interrogation that was designed to extract evidence from even the most reluctant suspect. The process of the interrogation uses a 9-step process where initially the investigator tells the suspect of the surety of his crime. The procedure however is to make the suspect feel comfortable during the interrogation process while the investigator progressively leads him into a willing confession. The Reid technique is a nine-step process, but the investigation procedure can be summarized into the main body of the system: isolation, confrontation and minimization. The investigator starts by analyzing the facts at hand and eliminating those who are unlikely to be suspects, those who have the high probability of having commit the crime as observed during the factual and behavioral analysis will be subjected to the nine-step interrogation process (Orlando).
The accusatory process is when the nine-step procedure of the Reid techniques begins. The investigator starts with a monologue stating that there is certainty about the guilt of the accused while emphasizing that he understands why he have committed the crime. The police, after offering the facts of the initial investigation, initially encouraged the accused to confess this early, as his confession can be helpful in lessening the punishment. When the direct confrontation does not work, which is often the case, the examiner proceed to the next step which is “domination”. The domination happens as the investigator does most of the talking, and any attempt of the accused of claiming innocence is immediately brushed off. The accused, despite his non-admission of guilt, is offered a lesser punishment when he readily admits of the crime. This is the “minimization” step, which often weakens the psychological defense of the accused. The coercive tactics of the interrogator trained with this system can invariably elicit confession. The psychological effect of the Reid techniques is too powerful that its effectiveness in extracting admission of guilt made it one of the popular detection techniques (The Reid).
According to research, however, the powerful effect of the Reid technique has its weaknesses. For instance, after the analyzing the facts and having the suspect at hand, the interrogator who was trained to see lies according to the behavior of the suspect, proceeds with the investigation with the assumption that he has the guilty person. The coercive circumstances of the Reid techniques would elicit information or confession, but the weakness of this system is that it does not have a method that distinguishes a true from false confession. The imperfection of the system has made several innocent individuals serve imprisonment despite their innocence.
False confessions that are brought about by stress during interrogation are one of the leading grounds for wrongful conviction in the United States. The long hours of interrogation can emotionally and psychologically demean and stress the accused, resulting to an innocent individual to admit the accusation. There is a law enforcement error that arises during interrogation, such as the insistently blaming a suspect despite weak evidence, and forcing him to admit to the crime by using pressure. According to research, often the accused would admit to a crime in order to avoid the agonizing experience of being under stressful interrogations. The groups that are observed to be vulnerable under coercive examination are the youngsters, the mentally retarded or sick and other individuals who are submissive.

Stress and False Memories

Stress can often impede an individual’s ability to recall. The phenomena of false memory happen when an individual recalls an event that never really occurred, or is different from how it happened. According to recent research there are significant indications that false memories can be created by scientific processes. And the fact that false memories can be created within the laboratory is an indication that there are also external and natural factors that can induce it. The irony of these psychological phenomena is that the concerned individual remembers the memory so vividly so that it became improbable to tell that it is not true at all. The following factors, couple with stress can significantly affect how one presents the events directly from his memory.

Factors that Causes False Memories

Inaccurate Perception. False memory occurs as a result of the inaccurate perception of an event that is currently occurring. Due to the wrongful observation, it follows that the individual’s recall of the event is different form how it happened. The incorrect perception may be affected by stress during the occurrence of the incident, thus reducing the credibility of the individual’s recall of the event.
Inferences. In some instances, the false memory is a result of an incorrect inference during the incident. While the witness to a crime figures out the occurrence of an incident, he would certainly draw from his previous experiences and knowledge to understand the event. People have this natural inclination to give the implication of a certain event, and this most often leads to the misunderstandings of what actually happened and what was a result of mere inference. The false memory occurs because the subject draws some assumption from his opinion rather that from the actual event. Sometimes, the memory is altered in order to fit in with what one believes based on one’s general knowledge and expectations (Roediger).
Interference. This happens when a person is required to recall an incident after the passage of considerable time. The effect of this to the occurrence of false memory is that there may be events that interfere or block an individual’s recall. This happens when the reliable information from a witness, after several days is mixed with the knowledge given other people such as other bystanders, and investigators. There is the risk that the witness may incorporate the version of other people into how he saw the incident. The stress that may occur during the interview or interrogation may mislead the witness causing him to recall false information from his memory.
Similarity. The effect of similarity to false memory happens when a person recognizes an event or person that has a very close similarity to that of the subject. There are instances when a wrong person is implicated in a crime as a result of the effect of visual similarity (Roediger)
Scientific studies revealed that stress can affect an individual’s ability to recall in many ways, and much of its effect depends on the timing of exposure to stress. The bodily reaction in relation to stress can be explained by the secretion of stress hormones into the blood circulation. The secretion of stress hormones can have a positive effect into the brain, but the prolonged exposure to anxiety can cause impairment to the natural flow of information into and out of the memory system. The hippocampus, the component of the brain that is needed to develop fresh memories has plenty of receptors for cortisol, a stress inducing hormone. The excessive amount of cortisol can weaken the capacity of the hippocampus to encode and retrieve information. In addition to that is that the stress hormones do further damage by hampering the energy to reach the hippocampus by diverting the glucose levels to other systems. What is alarming is that stress does not only make individuals create false memories, but it makes them more confident of the factuality of their memory.
A recent scientific study revealed that recurring stress and anxiety has a detrimental effect on the proper functioning of the brain, especially in relation to the encoding and retrieval of information. While many police interrogators believed that prolonged periods of shock and stress are effective ways to elicit truthful information, studies showed that the stressful situation only encourages the subject to speak in order to avoid the periods of torture. The elicited information may not be truthful, and the extreme stress experienced by the subject has a damaging effect on the frontal lobe that is often connected with the recall of false memories. This means that coercive techniques that put a person under prolonged stress compromised the neurological system that supports the memory.


There are many instances when the conviction of a person for a crime he did not commit came as a result of the incorrect outcome of deception detection techniques. As revealed by several researches, the popular Reid techniques and polygraph test have their imperfections and the results of investigations using these methods are not absolute. It is also concluded that the stressful situations during interrogations have the power to elicit false confessions either from the subjects want to get away from the difficult situations or from the impairment of his memory. Stress can have a damaging effect to the brain, thus information that is taken from a person after exposure to stress should be subject to further investigation. Investigators today have better options in conducting a less torturing and more accurate investigations such as the DNA testing as used by the Innocence Project in exonerating innocent individuals.


Maschke, G., Scalabrini, G. The Lie Behind the Lie Detector. Retrieved from https://antipolygraph.org.
Orlando, J. Interrogation Techniques. Retrieved from http://ww.cga.ct.gov
Roediger, H., Marsh, E. False Memory. Retrieved from http://www.scholarpedia.org
The Reid Interrogation Technique. Second Call Defense. Retrieved from http://www.secondcalldefense.org

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