Original Article

Law and Human Behavior

First online:

You Have the Right to Understand: The Deleterious Effect of Stress on Suspects’ Ability to Comprehend Miranda

  • Kyle C. ScherrAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Iowa State University Email author 
  • , Stephanie MadonAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Iowa State University

Abstract

Miranda v. Arizona (384 U.S. 436, 1966) required that suspects be explicitly warned of the right to avoid self-incrimination and the right to legal representation. This research was designed to examine whether stress, induced via an accusation of wrong-doing, undermined or enhanced suspects’ ability to comprehend their Miranda rights. Participants were randomly assigned to either be accused (n = 15) or not accused (n = 15) of having cheated on an experimental task in a two-cell between-subjects experimental design. Results supported the hypothesis that stress undermines suspects’ ability to comprehend their Miranda rights. Participants who were accused of cheating exhibited significantly lower levels of Miranda comprehension than participants who were not accused of cheating. The theoretical processes responsible for these effects and the implications of the findings for police interrogation are discussed.

Keywords

Miranda rights Comprehension Stress Accusation