Didn’t get your 40 winks last night? Better not get yourself arrested, or you may admit to a crime you didn’t commit. False confessions are surprisingly easy to extract from people simply by keeping them awake, according to a new study of sleep deprivation. It puts hard numbers to a problem that criminal law reformers have worried about for decades.
The “crime” in question took place in a sleep lab run by Kimberly Fenn at Michigan State University in East Lansing. Together, she and Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist at the University of California (UC), Irvine, and two of their Ph.D. students recruited 88 Michigan State students to take part in an experiment.
So should all suspects and witnesses be given a full night’s sleep before giving a statement to the police? Letting suspects sleep will protect the innocent but may also let more criminals off the hook by helping them resist interrogation, says John Wixted, a psychologist at UC San Diego who recently published a study on the vulnerability of eyewitnesses to false accusation.
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