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Sleep deprivation makes false confessions more likely

Police in New Jersey are trained to use the same techniques that authorities in other areas use when eliciting a confession during an interrogation. A new study has found that sleep deprivation makes the possibility of signing a false confession far more likely. The study was conducted at Michigan State University and involved 88 participants who completed computer activities and a cognitive test during a week-long period.

The participants were told not to hit the keyboard's escape key at any time during the activities because this could cause the computer to lose valuable data. On the final day, one group slept for eight hours prior to the lab session while the other group stayed up all night. Each participant was shown a summary of his or her activities, including a false allegation that they had hit the escape key. Participants were asked to sign the summary to confirm its accuracy.

The study found that 50 percent of the sleep-deprived subjects signed the summary containing false information while only 18 percent of the well-rested participants signed it. Sleep deprivation also impacted the subjects' performance on a cognitive test.

Sleep deprivation is common during an interrogation when questioning occurs over a period of hours or even days in some cases. False confessions are believed to account for about 15 to 25 percent of wrongful convictions.

Once a person has confessed to criminal allegations, a conviction becomes much more likely. Many people believe that an innocent person wouldn't confess to something that they didn't do; however, awareness about the frequency of false confessions is increasing. It is a good idea for anyone who has been accused of a crime to consult with a criminal defense attorney at the earliest possible stage of the investigation.

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