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Remembering a Crime That You Didn’t Commit

Why do people remember and even testify to things that didn’t happen? We know that some confessions are coerced, and some “recovered memories” are actually implanted, but recent research shows that the power of suggestion can lead most people to truly believe false events, to the point that they fill in the details, whether those details make sense or not. In one experiment, over 70% of students participating in the study (none of whom had a criminal record) began to believe they’d committed a crime that was suggested to them.

These are troubling findings. They mimic, in the gentlest way, what can happen during police questioning: a small lie, told to shake loose the truth, rattles around in a suspect’s imagination and takes root. The psychologist Saul Kassin has studied interrogation and false confession for decades. He told me that Shaw and Porter’s experiment illustrates perfectly how social pressure can make innocent people admit to wrongdoing. “Think about the dilemma the suspect now faces: ‘I don’t have a memory for this, but the person who took care of me does. Therefore it must be true and I have to find a way to remember it.’ ”

There have been cases of people serving long sentences or even execution based on the power of suggestion. Read more about false confessions and research about it at The New Yorker. -via Digg

(Image credit: Flickr user Yumi Kimura)


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