Planting the seeds of doubt: how memory reactivation and interrogation tactics influence internalized false confessions

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Towson University. Department of Psychology


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In a study of false confessions, Kassin and Kiechel (1996) found that 28% of participants came to believe they committed a transgression they did not commit. One explanation for false confessions is reconsolidation, which describes the process of reactivating a memory and then storing it again in memory. Misleading information given during reactivation can supplant the original memory, thereby producing a false memory. The current study combined standard false confession and reconsolidation paradigms to test the effects of reactivation and psychologically coercive interrogation tactics on the frequency of compliance and internalization of guilt. Participants who underwent reactivation were no more likely to falsely confess than those who did not. Furthermore, reactivation did not increase the likelihood of internalizing guilt. Participants exposed to coercive tactics signed a confession more often than those who were not. Surprisingly, exposure to coercive tactics increased internalization rates. Explanations regarding memory distinctiveness and plausibility are discussed.