Skip to main content

Behavioral Confirmation in the Interrogation Room: On the Dangers of Presuming Guilt

Abstract

A two-phased experiment tested the hypothesis that the presumption of guilt that underlies police interrogations activates a process of behavioral confirmation. In Phase I, 52 suspects guilty or innocent of a mock theft were questioned by 52 interrogators led to believe that most suspects were guilty or innocent. Interrogators armed with guilty as opposed to innocent expectations selected more guilt-presumptive questions, used more interrogation techniques, judged the suspect to be guilty, and exerted more pressure to get a confession—particularly when paired with innocent suspects. In Phase II, neutral observers listened to audiotapes of the suspect, interrogator, or both. They perceived suspects in the guilty expectations condition as more defensive—and as somewhat more guilty. Results indicate that a presumption of guilt sets in motion a process of behavioral confirmation by which expectations influence the interrogator's behavior, the suspect's behavior, and ultimately the judgments of neutral observers.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

REFERENCES

  • Akehurst, L., Kohnken, G., Vrij, A., & Bull, R. (1996). Lay persons' and police officers' beliefs regarding deceptive behaviour. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 10, 461–471.

    Google Scholar 

  • Akehurst, L., & Vrij, A. (1999). Creating suspects in police interviews. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 29, 192–210.

    Google Scholar 

  • Burgoon, J. K., Buller, D. B., Ebesu, A. S., & Rockwell, P. (1994). Interpersonal deception V. Accuracy in deception detection. Communication Monographs, 61, 303–325.

    Google Scholar 

  • Carretta, T. R., & Moreland, R. L. (1983). The direct and indirect effects of inadmissible evidence. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 13, 291–309.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Darley, J. M., & Fazio, R. (1980). Expectancy confirmation processes arising in the social interaction sequence. American Psychologist, 35, 867–881.

    Google Scholar 

  • DePaulo, B. M., & Pfeifer, R. L. (1986). On-the-job experience and skill at detecting deception. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 16, 249–267.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ekman, P., & O'Sullivan, M. (1991). Who can catch a liar? American Psychologist, 46, 913–920.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ekman, P., O'Sullivan, M., & Frank, M. G. (1999). A few can catch a liar. Psychological Science, 10, 263–266.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gilbert, D. T., & Jones, E. E. (1986). Perceiver-induced constraint: Interpretations of self-generated reality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 269–280.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gilbert, D. T., & Malone, P. S. (1995). The correspondence bias. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 21–38.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gudjonsson, G. (2003). The psychology of interrogations and confessions: A handbook. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

    Google Scholar 

  • Haverkamp, B. E. (1993). Confirmatory bias in hypothesis testing for client-identified and counselor self-generated hypotheses. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 40, 303–315.

    Google Scholar 

  • Inbau, F. E., Reid, J. E., Buckley, J. P., & Jayne, B. C. (2001). Criminal Interrogation and Confessions (4th ed.). Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jones, E. E. (1990). Interpersonal perception. New York: Freeman.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kassin, S. M. (1997). The psychology of confession evidence. American Psychologist, 52, 221–233.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kassin, S. M., & Fong, C. T. (1999). “I'm innocent!”: Effects of training on judgments of truth and deception in the interrogation room. Law and Human Behavior, 23, 499–516.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kassin, S. M., & Kiechel, K. L. (1996). The social psychology of false confessions: Compliance, internalization, and confabulation. Psychological Science, 7, 125–128.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kassin, S. M., & Neumann, K. (1997). On the power of confession evidence: An experimental test of the “fundamental difference” hypothesis. Law and Human Behavior, 21, 469–484.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kassin, S. M., & Sukel, H. (1997). Coerced confessions and the jury: An experimental test of the “harmless error” rule. Law and Human Behavior, 21, 27–46.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kassin, S. M., & Wrightsman, L. S. (1980). Prior confessions and mock juror verdicts. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 10, 133–146.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kramer, G. P., Kerr, N. L., & Carroll, J. S. (1990). Pretrial publicity, judicial remedies, and jury bias. Law and Human Behavior, 14, 409–438.

    Google Scholar 

  • Leo, R. A. (1996). Inside the interrogation room. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 86, 266–303.

    Google Scholar 

  • Leo, R. A., & Ofshe, R. J. (1998). The consequences of false confessions: Deprivations of liberty and miscarriages of justice in the age of psychological interrogation. Journal of Law and Criminology, 88, 429–496.

    Google Scholar 

  • McNatt, D. B. (2000). Ancient Pygmalion joins contemporary management: A meta-analysis of the result. Journal of Applied Psychology, 85, 314–322.

    Google Scholar 

  • Meissner, C. A., & Kassin, S. M. (2002). “He's guilty!”: Investigator bias in judgments of truth and deception. Law and Human Behavior, 26, 469–480.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mortimer, A., & Shepherd, E. (1999). Frames of mind: Schemata guiding cognition and conduct in the interviewing of suspected offenders. In A. Memon & R. Bull (Eds.), Handbook of the psychology of interviewing. Chichester, England: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nickerson, R. S. (1998). Confirmation bias: A ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises. Review of General Psychology, 2, 175–220.

    Google Scholar 

  • Radelet, M. L., Bedau, H. A., & Putnam, C. E. (1992). In spite of innocence: Erroneous convictions in capital cases. Boston: Northeastern University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rosenthal, R., & Jacobson, L. (1968). Pygmalion in the classroom: Teacher expectation and pupils' intellectual development. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ross, L. (1977). The intuitive psychologist and his shortcomings: Distortions in the attribution process. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 10, 174–221.

    Google Scholar 

  • Scheck, B., Neufeld, P., & Dwyer, J. (2000). Actual innocence: Five days to execution and other dispatches from the wrongly convicted. New York: Doubleday.

    Google Scholar 

  • Snyder, M. (1992). Motivational foundations of behavioral confirmation. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 25, 67–114.

    Google Scholar 

  • Snyder, M., & Stukas, A. A. (1999). Interpersonal processes: The interplay of cognitive, motivational, and behavioral activities in social interaction. Annual Review of Psychology, 50, 273–303.

    Google Scholar 

  • Snyder, M., & Swann, W. B. (1978). Hypothesis-testing processes in social interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 1202–1212.

    Google Scholar 

  • Vessel, D. (1998, October). Conducting successful interrogations. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 1–6.

  • Wald, M., Ayres, R., Hess, D. W., Schantz, M., & Whitebread, C. H. (1967). Interrogations in New Haven: Impact of Miranda. Yale Law Journal, 76, 1519–1648.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wrightsman, L. S., & Kassin, S. M. (1993). Confessions in the courtroom. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zuckerman, M., DePaulo, B. M., & Rosenthal, R. (1981). Verbal and nonverbal communication of deception. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 14, 1–59.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Saul M. Kassin.

About this article

Cite this article

Kassin, S.M., Goldstein, C.C. & Savitsky, K. Behavioral Confirmation in the Interrogation Room: On the Dangers of Presuming Guilt. Law Hum Behav 27, 187–203 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1022599230598

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1022599230598

  • behavioral confirmation
  • interrogation
  • confessions