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Confessions Made After Sleep Deprivation May Be False, Says Study

Update Date: Feb 15, 2016 02:08 AM EST
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According to a new study, people that are sleep-deprived are five times likelier to sign false confessions. This research adds to the growing psychological study that claims how our memories become less reliable when sleep deprived. This can have complex concerns for the justice systems that rely on suspect and eyewitness account.

A team of researchers led by Kimberley M. Fenn, associate professor of psychology, Michigan State University, uses a series of logic puzzles and computer exercises to test the participants. During this exercise, the subjects had to remain focused so as to not hit escape button or they can lose important information. The test subjects were analyzed after they were kept awake all night or slept in the lab. The next morning, they had to sign a document that summarized their experience. Each patient was asked to inaccurately approve that they pressed the "escape key", as reported by Christian Science Monitor

The subjects that didn't sign initially were provoked to do so. After requesting twice, 38.6% people who could sleep last night for 8-hours agreed to sign the false confession, as compared to 68.2% who were awake for 24 hours. The participants who rated their sleepiness on a scale of 6 or 7 on the Stanford Sleepiness Scale were 4.5 times likelier to sign the false confession. "We propose that sleep deprivation sets the stage for a false confession by impairing complex decision making abilities - specifically, the ability to anticipate risks and consequences, inhibit behavioral impulses, and resist suggestive influences," the authors write in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says Science Daily

"A false admission of wrongdoing can have disastrous consequences in a legal system already fraught with miscarriages of justice," they write, proposing that suspects be given a sleepiness assessment before undergoing interrogation, and that all interrogations be videotaped so that judges, lawyers and jurors can assess the context of a confession for themselves. Although sleep-deprivation may not be police's intent, the authors point out that hours-long interrogations, or ones that take place overnight, could induce the same confusion and increased chances of a false confession, Ars Technica Reports

 

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