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Sleep Deprivation And Lower Intelligence Enhances Likelihood Of False Confession, Study

Update Date: Feb 09, 2016 03:54 PM EST

If you are sleep deprived, you are more likely to sign a false confession, as compared to a person who is rested, says a new study by Michigan State University.

The chance increases 4.5 times more for those who have kept awake for 24 hours, as compared to others who slept for eight hours the previous night.

This could have implications for police interrogation.

"This is the first direct evidence that sleep deprivation increases the likelihood that a person will falsely confess to wrongdoing that never occurred," Kimberly Fenn, a scientist, said in a press release. "It's a crucial first step toward understanding the role of sleep deprivation in false confessions and, in turn, raises complex questions about the use of sleep deprivation in the interrogation of innocent and guilty suspects."

About 88 participants were asked to finish computer activities and take a cognitive test in a number of laboratory sessions. Over a week, the participants were warned to "never hit the 'escape' key", else, it would "cause the computer to lose valuable data."

On the last day, half of the participants remained awake all night, while the others slept for eight hours. While leaving, they were shown a statement that "falsely alleged" their hitting the escape key. They were told to confirm by checking a box and signing their name.

The sleep-deprived group signed the false confession, but just 18 percent of the others confirmed. Sleep deprivation also impacted those who scored lower on the Cognitive Reflection Test linked with intelligence. Such participants were more likely to sign the confession when sleep deprived.

"A false admission of wrongdoing can have disastrous consequences in a legal system already fraught with miscarriages of justice," the authors conclude in the paper. "We are hopeful that our study is the first of many to uncover the sleep-related factors that influence processes related to false confession."

The findings were published in Dec. 30,2015 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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