Date of Award

5-2015

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

College/School

College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Department/Program

Psychology

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Jason Dickinson

Committee Member

Kenneth Sumner

Committee Member

Peter Vietze

Abstract

It has been established through numerous research studies that police interrogation tactics have the ability to elicit false confessions from innocent individuals. Not only do the tactics used have the ability to coerce a confession, but confirmation bias may further influence the techniques used during an interrogation and pressure exerted on a suspect. Individuals may falsely admit guilt to a crime in order to escape pressure, to obtain a promise of leniency, or because they internalize the confession based on evidence against them. Confessions are expanded upon, written down and signed to be used against the suspect in trial. Jurors that are exposed to confessions hold high regard for this form of evidence. Because of this, an innocent individual who falsely confesses to a crime is likely to be wrongfully convicted.

The purpose of this study is to examine how individuals evaluate an interrogation with or without a confession. In a pilot study (N=201), undergraduates from Montclair State university rated overall verdict decisions (guilty vs. innocent), and perceived coercion based on an interrogation transcript. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three different scenarios: murder, hit and run, and sexual assault. There were two versions of each scenario, one with a confession present, and one where a confession was absent. In Study 2 (/V=485), undergraduates from Montclair State University additionally reviewed twelve interrogation tactics presented in the transcript and rated the tactics in terms of effectiveness, coercion, and ethicality of each technique.

As predicted, the presence of a confession resulted in a greater number of guilty than innocent verdicts compared to a confession-absent scenario. Unlike what was hypothesized, however, the presence of a confession resulted in higher ratings of coercion. This suggests that participants perceive higher levels of coerciveness used to elicit a confession, but this pressure is not used in rendering a verdict. In terms of tactic ratings, it was assumed that participants will perceive interrogation tactics as less effective when the interrogation did not result in a confession, or when the suspect was believed to be guilty. The presence of a confession lead participants to rate each tactic as more effective. However, verdict did not seem to play a role in effectiveness ratings. For coercion, it was hypothesized that tactics will be perceived as more coercive when a confession is absent, or when the suspect was believed to be innocent. Alternatively, in general, ratings for each tactic were significantly higher when there was a confession. In terms of verdict, ratings of coerciveness were higher when the participant believed the suspect was innocent, which was predicted. Ratings of ethicality were suggested to be lower in the absence of a confession or when the suspect was believed to be innocent. Ratings were higher, though not significantly so, when no confession was present. This was opposite of what was predicted. In terms of verdict, ratings of ethicality were significantly higher when participants believed the suspect was guilty, as hypothesized.

Despite limitations in sample selection, this research will increase the knowledge regarding how individuals evaluate interrogations and confessions, how they perceive numerous interrogation tactics, and how these factors influence overall verdict.

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