New research has found that people are often surprisingly willing to confess to having committed crimes – even when they’re innocent, or when the crimes never actually took place.
According to psychboffins Julia Shaw of the University of Bedfordshire, UK and Stephen Porter of the University of British Columbia, Canada, interviewers need only seed their questions with a few “wrong details” to cause false memories to form in subjects’ minds.
“Our findings show that false memories of committing crime with police contact can be surprisingly easy to generate, and can have all the same kinds of complex details as real memories,” Shaw said in a statement.
To prove the point, the researchers gave a questionnaire to the primary caregivers of 60 university students, asking then to describe events that the students experienced between the ages of 11 and 14. The boffins then brought the students in to their lab for a series of three 40-minute interviews about their past histories.
The twist? Although the scientists asked each student about two different life events, only one of the events mentioned in the questioning actually happened. The other event was pure fiction, but a surprising number of test subjects came to believe it happened anyway, even when it involved them committing a crime.