Psychology Public Policy and Law
The reliability of a confession partially depends on the interrogation methods used and the confession’s content. Confronting suspects with evidence gives a suspect knowledge of nonpublic details, increasing the likelihood of a false confession (Gudjonsson & Pearse, 2011; Leo, 2009), and makes the confession harder to judge as more or less reliable. That is, if a confession is consistent with case facts but details of the crime were communicated to the suspect during interrogation, it is difficult to judge whether the confession is a product of the suspect’s knowledge of the crime or the details that were communicated during the interrogation. The objective of this article was to examine whether jurors consider the interrogation technique and source of consistent knowledge in judging the reliability of confession evidence. In 2 studies, participants read a trial summary in which the defendant’s confession was consistent versus inconsistent with case facts and evidence was withheld versus disclosed during the interrogation. In Study 2, we also examined for moderating effects of need for cognition (NC). Overall, participants were attuned to confession–case facts consistency in making decisions; furthermore, in Study 2, this effect interacted with evidence disclosure on a number of measures. If the confession was consistent, participants rated the strength of evidence and reliability of the confession higher, and impression of the interrogation more positively, when evidence was withheld during the interrogation rather than disclosed. NC did not moderate these effects. Overall, findings suggest participants are somewhat sensitive to variations in confession evidence.
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Henderson, K. S., & Levett, L. M. (2020). The effects of variations in confession evidence and need for cognition on jurors’ decisions. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 26 (3), 245–260. https://doi.org/10.1037/LAW0000233