Videotaped confessions can create bias against suspect, study finds

March 13, 2007 by ELIZABETH BOYLE
Videotaped confessions can create bias against suspect, study finds
This video still from a mock interrogation focuses on the suspect. Courtesy of Daniel Lassiter

Police often videotape interrogations of suspects for use in criminal trials. Video confessions that focus exclusively on the suspect, however, can bias judges and law enforcement officers to consider the suspect’s statements as voluntary, according to a new Ohio University study.

In more than 25 percent of wrongful convictions exonerated by DNA testing, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pled guilty, according to the Innocence Project. Police interrogation tactics – which include exaggerating the evidence against the suspect or implying the suspect could face an extreme sentence – can prompt a suspect to make a false confession, said Daniel Lassiter, an Ohio University professor of psychology.

In videotaped confessions, many law enforcement agencies focus the camera on only the suspect. Lassiter’s research shows that this practice creates what he calls a camera-perspective bias that leads trial participants to view the confessions as voluntary, regardless of how interrogators obtained them.

In the recent study, published in the March issue of Psychological Science, Lassiter and colleagues from Northwestern University and the American Bar Foundation asked 21 judges and 24 law-enforcement officers to view a videotaped mock confession. The researchers presented participants with different versions of the confession in which the camera focused on only the suspect, only the detective, or both suspect and detective. Participants assessed how voluntarily the suspect confessed in each case.

The study found that judges and law enforcement officers considered the suspect-focus version of the confession to be more voluntary than the equal-focus and detective-focus versions.

“The phenomenon (camera-perspective bias) is rooted in a naturally occurring perceptual bias that affects everyone and which cannot be readily overcome regardless of people’s expertise or the amount of professional training they have received,” Lassiter said.

Though some in the legal field have been skeptical of such research, this study’s use of judges and law enforcement officers as participants demonstrates the real-world relevance of the work.

“It’s a challenge in psychological research to move in a persuasive way from the laboratory setting, and this is an important next step that builds on the long program of research that Dr. Lassiter pioneered,” said Shari Seidman Diamond, Northwestern University Howard J. Trienens Professor of Law and co-author of the paper.

Lassiter’s two decades of videotape interrogation research have led to changes in law enforcement policy. New Zealand, Wisconsin and Virginia, as well as the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing, have used his work to push for amended regulations. Lassiter hopes his research eventually will influence wider legislative reform that would require equal-focus videotaping.

Source: Ohio University

Explore further: NASA sees unavoidable sea level rise ahead (Update)

Related Stories

Rain in China blast city raises pollution fears

August 18, 2015

Heavy rain fell Tuesday on the remains of a Chinese industrial site devastated by giant explosions, complicating clean-up efforts and heightening fears about toxic contamination as ceremonies were held to mark the disaster's ...

Drones getting in the way of emergency responders

August 10, 2015

As Jason Thrasher lowered his helicopter to a park with seven firefighters aboard, he saw what he thought was another firefighting chopper battling a blaze that was threatening homes.

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.