Ever wondered why innocent people make false confessions? As odd as it seems, it is quite a common occurrence. There are several explanations as to why a person would want to take the heat for a crime another person committed.
The first reason is to attract attention.
These are considered voluntary false confessions that are given freely, often to divert attention away from the actual person who committed the crime. Some of these people receive so much attention from confessing to one crime, they continue to confess to more crimes in order to maintain their media attention. One of the biggest crime cases in print journalism was the Mystery of the Black Dahlia. In 1947 approximately 60 people came forward to confess to the killing of a young woman to get their chance in the spotlight.
The second reason is to avoid punishment, escape a stressful situation or pacify an aggressive investigator.
This is referred to as a compliant false confession. These typically happen in the setting of a police interrogation because the situation creates mental exhaustion for the individual in question. Individuals feel like they are in a helpless situation and just want to end a grueling interrogation. Following the rape of a female jogger in 1989, five teenage boys were accused and interrogated each for between 14 to 30 hours. All five confessed to the crime but later renounced involvement, saying they only gave in to end the length interrogations. The infamous case was nicknamed “Central Park Five” after the five accused men.
The third explanation, typically the result of the most manipulation, is an internalized false confession.
These false confessions are those in which the person who is in question genuinely believes they have committed the crime, as a result of suggestive and manipulative interrogation techniques. Police interrogations and the secluded high-pressure environments can create false memories of committing a crime. In one example, a man named Peter Reilly falsely confessed to murdering his mother under immense psychological pressure. Unfortunately, the interrogator’s persuasion triumphed over the lack of evidence in his trial. Thankfully, he was ultimately exonerated a few years later.
We hope you have a better understanding of the psychology of false confessions and how they can happen.