Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 208–216 | Cite as

Confidently Wrong: Police Endorsement of Psycho-Legal Misconceptions

  • Chloe Chaplin
  • Julia ShawEmail author


Public beliefs about psychological issues relevant to the legal system have been demonstrated to often be misconceived, but the endorsement of such beliefs in law enforcement samples is largely unknown. This study was the first to compare psycho-legal beliefs between law enforcement officers and the general public in the UK. Participants were presented a 50-item questionnaire measuring five psycho-legal topics; police procedures, courts, tough on crime, mental illness, and memory and cognition. Despite direct involvement and relevant experience, law enforcement officers endorsed just as many empirically contradictory beliefs as those who were not law enforcement officers. Further, law enforcement officers were more confident in their responses. This research has implications for identifying areas of limited knowledge within police samples that can be targeted by police education.


Law enforcement Law Psychology Evidence-based policing Police reform 


  1. Aamodt MG (2008) Reducing misconceptions and false beliefs in police and criminal psychology. Crim Justice Behav 35(10):1231–1240. doi: 10.1177/0093854808321527 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bruck M, Ceci SJ (1999) The suggestibility of children’s memory. Annu Rev Psychol 50:419–439. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.50.1.419 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Cook AN, Roesch R (2011) Tough on crime reforms: what psychology has to say about the recent and proposed justice policy in Canada. Can Psychol. doi: 10.1037/a0025045 Google Scholar
  4. Dando CJ, Bull R (2011) Maximising opportunities to detect verbal deception: training police officers to interview tactically. J Investig Psychol Offender Profiling 8:189–202. doi: 10.1002/jip.145 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dando C, Wilcock R, Milne R (2008) The cognitive interview: inexperienced police officers’ perceptions of their witness/victim interviewing practices. Leg Criminol Psychol 13:59–70. doi: 10.1348/135532506X162498 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. DePaulo BM, Charlton K, Cooper H, Lindsay JJ, Muhlenbruck L (1997) The accuracy-confidence correlation in the detection of deception. Personal Soc Psychol Rev 1(4):346–357. doi: 10.1207/s15327957pspr0104_5 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Eilkann PT (1996) Tough-on-crime myth: real solutions to cut crime. Insight Publishing Co., New YorkGoogle Scholar
  8. Federal Bureau of Investigation (2015) FBI testimony on microscopic hair analysis contained errors in at least 90 percent of cases in ongoing review: 26 of 28 FBI analysts provided testimony or reports with errors [International Press Release]. Retrieved from
  9. Iacono W (2008) Effective policing: understanding how polygraph tests work and are used. Crim Justice Behav 35(10):1295–1308. doi: 10.1177/0093854808321529 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Karagiorgakis A (2010) Police officer beliefs about factors that influence eyewitness memory. Dissertation. Retrieved from
  11. Kassin S (2008) Confession evidence: commonsense myths and misconceptions. Crim Justice Behav 35(10):1309–1322. doi: 10.1177/0093854808321557 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Kowalski P, Taylor AK (2009) The effect of refuting misconceptions in the introductory psychology class. Teach Psychol 36(3):153–159. doi: 10.1080/00986280902959986 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Leippe MR, Eisenstadt D (2014) Eyewitness confidence and the confidence-accuracy relationship in memory for people. The handbook of eyewitness psychology, 377–425Google Scholar
  14. Lilienfeld SO, Landfield K (2008) Science and pseudoscience in law enforcement a user-friendly primer. Crim Justice Behav 35(10):1215–1230. doi: 10.1177/0093854808321526 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lilienfeld SO, Lynn SJ, Lohr JM (Eds.) (2012) Science and pseudoscience in clinical psychology. Guilford PressGoogle Scholar
  16. Lilienfeld SO, Ritschel LA, Lynn SJ, Cautin RL, Latzman RD (2015) Science–practice gap. Encycl Clin Psychol. doi: 10.1002/9781118625392.wbecp566 Google Scholar
  17. McGurk BJ, Carr MJ, McGurk D (1993) Investigative interviewing courses for police officers: an evaluation. Home Office Police Research GroupGoogle Scholar
  18. Mehdizadeh L, Sturrock A, Myers G, Khatib Y, Dacre J (2014) How well do doctors think they perform on the General Medical Council's Tests of Competence pilot examinations? A cross-sectional study. BMJ Open 4(2), e004131. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2013-004131 CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  19. Meyer JR, Reppucci ND (2007) Police practices and perceptions regarding juvenile interrogation and interrogative suggestibility. Behav Sci Law 25(6):757–780. doi: 10.1002/bsl.774 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Patihis L, Ho LY, Tingen IW, Lilienfeld SO, Loftus EF (2014a) Are the “memory wars” over? A scientist-practitioner gap in beliefs about repressed memory. Psychol Sci 25(2):519–530. doi: 10.1177/0956797613510718 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Patihis L, Lilienfeld SO, Ho LY, Loftus EF (2014b) Unconscious repressed memory is scientifically questionable. Psychol Sci [Commentary]Google Scholar
  22. Redlich AD, Goodman GS (2003) Taking responsibility for an act not committed: Influence of age and suggestibility. Law Hum Behav 27:141–156CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Roberts JV (2004) Public opinion and youth justice. Crime Justice 31:495–542, Retrieved from CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Shaw J, Woodworth M (2013) Are the misinformed more punitive? Beliefs and misconceptions in forensic psychology. Psychol Crime Law 19(8):687–706. doi: 10.1080/1068316X.2013.793335 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Shaw J, Porter S, ten Brinke L (2013) Catching liars: training mental health and legal professionals to detect high-stakes lies. J Forensic Psychiatry Psychol 24(2):145–159. doi: 10.1080/14789949.2012.752025 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Shawyer A, Milne B, Bull R (2009) Investigative interviewing in the UK. In: Williamson T, Milne B, Savage S (eds) International developments in investigative interviewing, 24–38Google Scholar
  27. Snook B (2008) Pseudoscientific policing practices. Crim Justice Behav 35(10):1211–1214. doi: 10.1177/0093854808321525 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Strömwall L, Granhag PA (2003) How to detect deception? Arresting the beliefs of police officers, prosecutors and judges. Psychol Crime Law 9(1):19–36. doi: 10.1080/106831602100057659 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Tavris C (2003) The widening scientist-practitioner gap: a view from the bridge. In: Lilienfeld SO, Lynn SJ, Lohr JM (eds) Science and pseudoscience in clinical psychology. Guilford, New York, pp ix–xviiiGoogle Scholar
  30. Taylor AK, Kowalski P (2004) Naive psychological science: the prevalence, strength, and sources of misconceptions. Psychol Rec 54(1):15–25, Retrieved from: Google Scholar
  31. Turtle J, Want S (2008) Logic and research versus intuition and past practice as guides to gathering and evaluating eyewitness evidence. Crim Justice Behav 35(10):1241–1256. doi: 10.1177/0093854808321879 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Vrij A, Mann S (2001) Who killed my relative? Police officers' ability to detect real-life high-stake lies. Psychol Crime Law 7(1-4):119–132. doi: 10.1080/10683160108401791 CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Society for Police and Criminal Psychology 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.London Probation ServicesLondonUK
  2. 2.School of Law and Social SciencesLondon South Bank UniversityLondonUK

Personalised recommendations