Princeton University Library Catalog

Innocent But Proven Guilty: An Interdisciplinary Study of False Confessions, Police Interrogation, and Cognitive Dissonance Reduction

Johnson, Tanner [Browse]
Senior thesis
Cooper, Joel [Browse]
Buschman, Timothy [Browse]
Princeton University. Department of Psychology [Browse]
Class year:
146 pages
Summary note:
Research on the nature, intentions, and implementation of the American police interrogation process has shown that interrogators employ psychologically manipulative techniques designed to achieve their objective: eliciting a confession, be it true or false. Since confessionary evidence is among the most compelling forms of trial evidence used to determine a suspects’ guilt or innocence, false confessions pose a significant risk for wrongful convictions and miscarriages of justice. In order to better understand how society can protect against false confession, the present study investigated the causes, underlying psychological processes, and effects of false confessions. Based on cognitive dissonance theory research, the study predicts that the counterattitudinal act of making a false confession produces dissonance, which motivates people to reduce this psychological discomfort through attitude change. By creating a situation that would allow the experimenter to accuse truly innocent participants of an alleged wrongdoing and simulate a three-stage interrogation situation, this study demonstrated that participants faced with certain interrogation pressures do falsely confess to actions that they did not commit and do come to adopt confession-consistent beliefs. The study explored various relationships between participants’ confession behavior, reported degrees of belief, perceived choice in making their confession, and the stage of the interrogation process at which they confessed. The legal, psychological, and conceptual implications of this study are discussed and future courses of study are suggested.