Psychological processes underlying true and false confessions Book Chapter

Houston, KA, Meissner, CA, Evans, JR. (2014). Psychological processes underlying true and false confessions . 19-34. 10.1007/978-1-4614-9642-7_2

cited authors

  • Houston, KA; Meissner, CA; Evans, JR


  • Recent controversies over the use of psychologically manipulative interrogation methods by U.S. law enforcement, and public concerns regarding the use of physically coercive interrogation methods, have highlighted the need for evidence-based, ethical approaches to facilitate the collection of diagnostic information during interrogation. Over the past few years, our laboratory has sought to better understand the psychological processes that might distinguish true and false confessions from guilty and innocent persons, respectively. Various psychological or decision-making models have been proposed to account for the role of social, cognitive, and affective factors which may lead to a suspect truthfully or falsely confessing. Of note is that little empirical data has sought to assess the validity of these proposed theories. We present here a meta-analysis of the social, cognitive, and affective factors leading to confession across experimental laboratory studies we have conducted using the Russano et al. (Psychological Science 16:481-486, 2005) paradigm. We synthesize this research by proposing a process model that highlights key differences in the psychological states that lead to true and false confessions, focusing on the role of internal and external pressures to confess as the principle mediating mechanism. Specifically, truthful confessions were found to be associated with affect or the emotional response to the interrogation, perceptions of the strength of evidence regarding involvement in the incident, feelings of guilt and the perceived consequences of confessing. In contrast, false confessions were associated with the perceived external pressures originating both from the interrogator and the interrogative context, as well as a perception of the consequences of confessing. Thus, a conception of the role of internal and external psychological mechanisms leading to variation in true and false confessions will be discussed, including the implications of such findings for the development of interrogative approaches that can lead to the elicitation of diagnostic confession evidence.

publication date

  • January 1, 2014

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

start page

  • 19

end page

  • 34