Quirks & Quarks

Sleep Deprivation Can Result in False Confessions

Finding suggests interrogation techniques can influence responses

Finding suggests interrogation techniques can influence responses

(Bmwriter1, cc-by-sa-3.0)
A new study has revealed that people will confess to a crime they did not commit, as long as they are kept awake.

The research looking at the relationship between false confession and sleep deprivation was conducted by Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, a Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Social Behaviour, and Professor of Law at the University of California, Irvine and her colleagues.

In an experiment involving two groups of students performing tasks on a computer - one rested, the other sleep deprived - most of those who were kept awake confessed to something they did not do. The 'crime' in the experiment was simply hitting the 'escape' key on a keyboard, which had been deemed harmful to the experiment's data. The study explains why real life police interrogations can result in false confessions and ultimately wrongful imprisonment, under similar conditions of sleep deprivation. 

Related Links

Paper in PNAS​
- Michigan State University release
- Washington Post article
Science news article