Max Guyll discusses the psychology of false confessions

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Imagine you’re arrested for murder, but you’re actually innocent. You’re read your rights and told, “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”  Then you’re asked if you’re willing to speak with the police. Because you’re innocent, you have nothing to hide.  So you waive your rights, and start talking.

Max Guyll, assistant professor of psychology, says this decision could start a chain of events that ends up with you falsely confessing to the murder. With his colleague Stephanie Madon, Guyll sought to understand why the innocent may be so willing to cooperate. Their research showed that the blood pressure of innocent people rose less than the guilty, indicating that the innocent felt less stress and were less afraid when accused.

Their research found that 43 percent of the innocent people in their study falsely confessed to having committed the offense – and they only interrogated people for a few minutes.

"Real police interrogations can go on for hours and hours," he said. "Innocent people may come to believe that the only way to escape the interrogation is to give up and confess. It can be like arguing with someone for hours on end; you reach a point where you’re willing to say anything just to make it stop."