Category Archives: Confessions

Quick links for the last week

New issues:

  • Law and Human Behavior 34(5) Recidivism risk, psychopathy, informants, quality of forensic examiners and more
  • Criminal Justice Matters 81(1) Articles on pre-crime, masculinity & violence, probation, secure envts & more
  • Psychology, Crime & Law 16(8) Articles on execution, prisoners, rape myths, child abuse, eyewitness testimony

New research articles:

  • Murder–suicide: A reaction to interpersonal crises. Forensic Science International 202(1-3)
  • The role of perpetrator similarity in reactions toward innocent victims Eur J Soc Psy 40(6) Depressing.
  • Detecting concealed information w/ reaction times: Validity & comparison w/ polygraph App Cog Psych 24(7)
  • Eliciting cues to children’s deception via strategic disclosure of evidence App Cog Psych 24(7)
  • Can fabricated evidence induce false eyewitness testimony? App Cog Psych 24(7) Free access
  • In press, B J Soc Psy Cues to deception in context. Apparently ‘context’ = ‘Jeremy Kyle Show’. Can’t wait for the paper!
  • Narrative & abductive processes in criminal profiling Free if u register for Sage trial
  • Children’s contact with incarcerated parents: Research findings & recommendations American Psych 65(6)
  • Comparing victim attributions & outcomes for workplace aggression & sexual harassment in J App Psych 95(5)
  • Correctional Psychologist Burnout, Job Satisfaction, and Life Satisfaction. In Psych Services 7(3)
  • It’s okay to shoot a character. Paper on morals in video games
  • Perceptions about memory reliability and honesty for children of 3 to 18 years old –

And some other links of interest:

Line-ups, eyewitness memory and camera perspective bias in videotaped confessions

Three articles of forensic interest in the June 2008 issue of Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied (Volume 14, Issue 2):

  • Lineup composition, suspect position, and the sequential lineup advantage by Curt A. Carlson, Scott D. Gronlund and Steven E. Clark
  • Forgetting the once-seen face: Estimating the strength of an eyewitness’s memory representation by Kenneth A. Deffenbacher, Brian H. Bornstein, E. Kiernan McGorty, and Steven D. Penrod
  • Camera perspective bias in videotaped confessions: Evidence that visual attention is a mediator by Lezlee J. Ware, G. Daniel Lassiter, Stephen M. Patterson and Michael R. Ransom

The type of interrogation likely to lead to false confessions

If you haven’t seen it already, head over to the BPS Research Digest blog where there’s a good summary of some interesting research on false confessions:

[Jessica] Klaver’s team have used an elegant laboratory task to compare two types of interrogation technique and found that it is so-called ‘minimising’ questions and remarks – those that downplay the seriousness of the offence, and which blame other people or circumstances – that are the most likely to lead to a false confession.

Using minimization techniques can be part of the Reid Technique, a popular law enforcement interrogation technique taught widely in the US and Canada which some researchers have argued puts vulnerable individuals at risk of falsely confessing. To be fair, however, the proponents of the Reid Technique do include a chapter on false confessions in the fourth edition of their manual. And I am sure they would debate the ecological validity of the paradigm Klaver et al used.


Quick links


Having neglected this blog somewhat in recent weeks I find myself now overwhelmed with interesting snippets from around the web and blogosphere. Here are just a few that caught my eye:

The Eyewitness Reform Blog 온라인 룰렛reports on a conviction “overturned for failure to “seriously consider” expert testimony on eyewitness factors”: “The court didn’t go as far as to say that it was error to exclude the expert testimony, but citing Illinois case law, found that it was error to fail to provide a reasoned basis for its exclusion.”

The Eyewitness Reform Blog also highlights the recent publication of an article in the NIJ Journal on making eyewitness identification in police line-ups more reliable.

Convicted conman Frank Abnegale claims that a combination of technology and living in “an extremely unethical society” has made crime easier: “You can build all the security systems in the world; you can build the most sophisticated technology, and all it takes is one weak link — someone who operates that technology — to bring it all down” (hat tip to Slashdot).

Some great posts from Romeo Vitelli at Providentia recently, including the tale of a psychotic priest killer, an exorcism case in Singapore, the killer who boasted about how easy it was to lie to psychiatrists, Guy de Maupassant’s struggle with neurosyphilis and two articles on shell shock.

Scott Henson over at Grits for Breakfast has also had some interesting posts up in the last few weeks, including a critique of the “policy many police and probation departments have adopted of rounding up all the registered sex offenders in their community into custody on Halloween night to keep them from having children come to their door” (see also Karen Franklin’s post) and a comment on the fact that although Americans are less likely to be victims of crime, their fear of crime just keeps rising.

Forensic psych Karen Franklin highlights some interesting (and free) articles on sex offending in the journal Sexual Offender Treatment. Whilst I’m talking about Karen, I’ll point you to a great little piece she wrote in September in which she demolishes a few myths and provides some practical advice about what it takes to become a forensic psych.

Michael Connolly at Corrections Sentencing points us towards the impressive set of evaluation resources over at the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Carnival Against Sexual Violence 34 is up at Abyss2Hope.

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Faking bad on the Gudjonsson Suggestibility Scales

Julian Boon, Lynsey Gozna and Stephen Hall have a paper forthcoming in the journal Personality and Individual Differences exploring whether it’s possible to ‘fake bad’ on the Gudjonsson Suggestibility Scales (GSS). These tests measure ‘Interrogative Suggestibility’ (IS), which is defined as “the extent to which, within a closed social interaction, people come to accept messages communicated during formal questioning, as a result of which their subsequent behavioural response is affected” (Gudjonsson & Clark, 1986, p. 84). People who are high in IS are more susceptible to making false confessions under interrogative pressure, in a police or military interrogation scenario, for instance. However, as the authors point out, some offenders might be motivated to appear suggestible or vulnerable even if they are not. For instance, if an offender wanted to retract a statement or confession, or “in circumstances where the successful demonstration of vulnerability may lead to a reduction in a fine or sentence or even to escaping a custodial sentence”.

Gudjonsson’s tests for suggestibility are now quite widely known and it’s relatively easy to find information about the procedure on the internet. This presents a problem: the reliability of the GSS depends on test takers being unaware of the purpose of the test. Boon et al. thus explored whether knowledge of the purpose of the test influenced performance, as well as examining the performance of those who deliberately tried to fake bad.

The ‘test aware’ group in this study performed differently on the suggestibility measures compared to the fakers and to a control group who had just been given the standard test. The fakers also produced a different pattern of results. Comparing the fakers’ results on suggestibility measures to the norms for individuals who are mentally impaired revealed that the results were almost identical. However, fakers could be discriminated from genuinely mentally impaired people because they performed better on a test of memory. The authors suggest that this unusual combination of results could be a ‘red flag’ for faking bad:

Specifically, this red-flag could be where individuals’ scoring profiles revealed near identical scores on the principal suggestibility measures to those of the intellectually disabled norms, while simultaneously they were scoring significantly higher on the free recall measures.

The authors report that the interviewer administering the tests didn’t know which conditions participants had been allocated to, but tried to guess. She was only correct 58% of the time, suggesting that participants were good at fooling the interviewer. This shows the value of being able to detect faking via measures in the tests rather than simply relying on the judgement of the interviewer.

The limitations of this study are the usual ones – participants were undergraduate students whose motivation for faking bad is probably rather less than that of real criminals trying to escape a prison sentence.


Abstract below the fold.

Continue reading Faking bad on the Gudjonsson Suggestibility Scales

Shyness, suggestibility and aggressive driving

shynessThe journal Personality and Individual Differences covers wide range of interesting material and there’s usually one or two articles in each issue that have relevance to forensic issues, either directly or in directly. Here’s a selection from recent and forthcoming issues.

In the September issue, Gisli Gudjonsson and colleagues report that individuals with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were not more suggestible in an interview situation than a control participants without ADHD. Gudjonsson et al. explain that ADHD participants didn’t yield to misinformation, leading questions and interrogative pressure, though they did give a disproportionate number of “don’t know” replies.

In November’s issue, researchers from Carlton University in Ontario report results of a study exploring whether shy eye-witnesses differ from non-shy witnesses when it comes to recall memory and susceptibility to misinformation. Contrary to predictions, they don’t (although the shy ones do get more stressed about it). It’s always interesting when you get negative results, or results that contradict existing findings. But my interest in this particular study is tempered by the fact that the ‘witnesses’ were watching a filmed mock crime rather than a genuine event.

Finally, in the December issue (which is already online), Murray Millar from the University of Nevada examines the relationship between emotion, personality and behaviour. He found that although people may get angry when they are driving, they are less likely to behave aggressively if they are the sort of person who cares a lot about what others think of them, a trait known as public self-consciousness. Miller explains:

Private self-consciousness is the tendency to focus attention upon the inner aspects of oneself such as thoughts, inner feelings, and physical sensations. Public self-consciousness is the tendency to focus attention on the self as a social object. People high in public self-consciousness are concerned about what other people think about them and how they appear to others

Miller concludes:

The current study indicates that when people are angry public self-consciousness influences whether anger leads to aggressive behavior. Overall, the relationship between personality and aggression is likely to involve a constellation of personality traits with some traits predisposing people to anger and other traits predisposing people to express anger as aggressive behavior. At a practical level, the present study suggests that when attempting to reduce aggressive driving behaviors it might be useful to focus on variables that combine with anger to produce aggression. For example, a combination of interventions aimed at reducing anger and increasing public self-consciousness, at least while driving, may reduce the amount of aggressive driving behavior.

What’s true for aggressive driving behaviour may well be true for other forms of aggressive behaviour too.


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Conference Announcement: Interrogations & Confessions

Interrogations & Confessions: A Conference Exploring Research, Practice, and Policy will be held September 27-29, 2007 at the University of Texas at El Paso. Here’s how the organisers describe it:

This two-and-a-half-day conference will provide a unique forum within which social scientists, legal scholars, law enforcement professionals, and clinicians might be brought together to critically examine the current state of research and practice on interrogations and confessions. To this end, the organizers have invited the most prominent scholars who have developed well-recognized programs of research on the topics of interrogative interviewing, false confessions, the detection of deception in forensic interviews, individual differences, and clinical-forensic evaluations.

Great line up of speakers including three researchers who are very active in false confession research – Saul Kassin, Richard Leo and Gisli Gudjonsson – plus Joseph Buckley, president of Reid Associates, developers of the widely-taught ‘Reid Technique’ for interrogation, which is, some believe, implicated in producing false confessions. Should be interesting!

The extraordinary tale of a possible miscarriage of justice

prisonlockLast week (19 Aug) the New York Times Magazine carried an extraordinary tale of possible false confessions which is well worth checking out before it disappears into the NYT archive.

Joseph Jesse Dick Jr. is currently incarcerated in Keen Mountain Correctional Center for rape and murder. He says he is innocent. Here’s how the author, Alan Berlow, begins his tale:

Even in the upside-down world of wrongful convictions, the extravagant case of Joseph Dick and his supposed partners in crime is in a class of its own… To conclude that Joseph Dick is innocent, you must first believe that the tape-recorded confession he gave to the police was untrue and, second, that three other men who said they committed the brutal crime with Dick also falsely confessed. In addition, you must believe that Dick perjured himself when he helped convict two of those co-defendants by testifying against them at their trials for rape and murder, lied when he named five other accomplices and lied moments before a judge gave him a double life sentence when he apologized to the parents of [the victim], declaring, “I know I shouldn’t have done it; I have got no idea what went through my mind that night, and my soul.”

This is a lot to accept. But perhaps the most astonishing aspect of this case is that these may be the most logical conclusions to draw. When I met Dick… he told me he had proclaimed to investigators his innocence of any involvement in the crime for more than seven hours. … Dick told me that he finally …[confessed] “to avoid the death penalty.”

… By the time he became a witness for the state, Dick explained, he had convinced himself he was guilty. Police officers, prosecutors and even his own lawyer insisted that he had committed the crime. “They messed up my mind and made me believe something that wasn’t true,” he said.

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New issue: Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology 18(2)


The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology 18(2) is now online. Follow the link to the publisher’s website for abstracts and access to full text articles.

Contents include:

  • ‘Just Say No’: A preliminary evaluation of a three-stage model of integrated treatment for substance use problems in conditions of medium security – Helen Miles; Lisa Dutheil; Ian Welsby; Daniel Haider
  • Dialectical behaviour therapy as a treatment for borderline personality disorder in prisons: Three illustrative case studies – Claire Nee; Sarah Farman
  • Understanding change in a therapeutic community: An action systems approach – Lucy Neville; Sarah Miller; Katarina Fritzon
  • Older adult patients subject to restriction orders in England and Wales: A cross-sectional survey – P. C. J. O’Sullivan; L. P. Chesterman
  • ‘Getting into trouble’: A qualitative analysis of the onset of offending in the accounts of men with learning disabilities – Tom Isherwood; Mick Burns; Mark Naylor; Stephen Read
  • Risk assessment of child-victim sex offenders for extended supervision in New Zealand – Teresa Watson; James Vess
  • Applying a psychodynamic treatment model to support an adolescent sentenced for murder to confront and manage feelings of shame and remorse – Sinéad Marriott
  • Do forensic psychiatric inpatient units pose a risk to local communities? – Vicente Gradillas; Andrew Williams; Elizabeth Walsh; Tom Fahy
  • Custodial interrogation: What are the background factors associated with claims of false confession to police? – Gisli H. Gudjonsson; Jon Fridrik Sigurdsson; Bryndis Bjork Asgeirsdottir; Inga Dora Sigfusdottir

How a retired cop coaxed confessions from a serial killer

lakeFascinating and beautifully written story in today’s New York Times Magazine (29 April) by Chip Brown, describing how Charlie Hess, a retired FBI agent, ex-CIA operative and former polygrapher, persuaded incarcerated serial killer Robert Browne to give up details of his previously unsolved crimes.

Before Hess got involved, Browne had been taunting detectives with cryptic notes and poorly written verses, for instance:

In the murky placid depths,
beneath the cool caressing mire,
lies seven golden opportunities.
Missed opportunities?
Lovingly, Robert Browne.

Hess, working as a volunteer ‘cold case’ investigator with other retired detectives, and took on the Browne case in 2002, entering a prolonged correspondence with the killer. Eventually – after months of exchanging letters with Hess – Browne provided details that helped close a number of previously unsolved murders. The keys that Hess used to open Browne up were patience, a focus on building rapport with the killer and a non-judgemental approach:

[Had Hess] ever found himself too repulsed to sit and chat about the inmate’s health and how Browne’s beloved New Orleans Saints were faring that season in the N.F.L.? Was it hard to shake his hand knowing what it had done?

“It upsets people when I say this, but it wasn’t hard,” Hess said. “I can’t let myself feel revulsion. If I feel revulsion in my gut he’s going to pick up on it. […] Now when I’m hearing [details of how Browne disarticulated the body of one of his victims], I can’t jump up and say, ‘Jesus Christ, Robert, how could you do that?’ I have to say ‘O.K.’ like it’s something everybody does. I have to put the horror of it out of my mind. […]”

The full article is available free, but you’ll have to register on the NYT site. If you’re interested in serial killers, catching serial killers, interview technique or persuasion, you’ll find hassle of registration a small price to pay.

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