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Step 1: invoke the right to remain silent. Step 2: call a lawyer.

Have you ever watched a television crime drama? You have probably sat through at least one scene where a police officer is vigorously interrogating a suspect. The officer fires questions at a rapid pace, lies about the evidence, suggests alternative motives or fills in the blanks for the suspect. The suspect eventually admits to certain facts or confesses to the crime. After a commercial break or two, you learn that the suspect is innocent.

When the show ends, you may ask yourself “how or why would anyone confess to a crime they didn’t commit? I’d never do that.” The truth is that people are more susceptible to false confessions than you may think. A recent study published in the journal Psychological Science found that researchers could convince people they committed a crime that never occurred in real life – and it only took three 40-minute sessions.

The tactics that the researchers used are very similar to the ones police employ. In the first session, the researchers told participants two stories. One happened. One did not. Researchers sprinkled true details about the participants’ lives into the false stories. Then, the participants were asked to retell the story immediately and again in the following sessions.

What did researchers find? Out of the 30 participants who were told a false story about them committing a crime when they were in their teens, 71 percent were convinced it was real. Eleven of 20 people were convinced that they committed a crime as serious as assault.

What is the moral of this story? When police suspect you of a crime, invoke your right to remain silent and call an attorney immediately.

Source: Association for Psychological Science, “People Can Be Convinced They Committed a Crime That Never Happened,” Jan. 15, 2015

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