A Biological Viewpoint of a False Confession

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The purpose of this paper is to discuss the biological viewpoint of a false confession dealing with the issue of depression. What a false confession is and how the brain receives information during an interrogation are topics this paper will be discussing based on facts supported by peer reviewed articles. False confessions have been an ongoing hindering factor in law enforcement for years; this paper will share facts and opinions that will uncover some of the problems regarding false confessions and possible solutions for the future in law enforcement.

A Biological Viewpoint of a False Confession

Police do not set out to obtain a false confession; they set out to reduce their caseload and to increase their statistics of closed cases. Often police use interrogation techniques designed to break a recalcitrant suspect through psychological pressure (Gee, J. 2009). If this is the case then why are so many false confessions used yearly in court against people? Many individuals would state that they would never admit to a crime they had no affiliation with; but if you were interrogated by police officials for hours on end in conditions unbearable and your only way out was to confess, would you?

Interrogators use psychological techniques that break an individual down mentally, emotionally, and even physically. They do so by creating an uncomfortable physical and psychological environment. The interrogators are allowed to lie and to use other deceptive tactics in order to gain a confession. They may lie about an eyewitness or a codefendant they claim has implicated the interrogation subject. Often the suspect will feel that the only way to stop the interrogation is to tell the interrogator what he or she wants to hear (Gee, J. 2009). The mental and emotional breakdown of a subject is no way to get the information needed in a case. An individual's biological makeup will alter how they act under stress and each individual is different in that sense.



Serotonin is the hormone found in the human brain that controls the depressive state of an individual. An individual is born with a certain level of serotonin in their brain, rather the level is of abundance or deficient can cause an effect of how the individual acts and reacts emotionally throughout life. Interrogators often use techniques in their interrogation process that puts the questioned subject into a depressive state of mind. With the subject in this depressive state of mind they are said to be less reluctant to tell lies and they are more vulnerable to questions being asked. However, if the subject interrogated is an individual who is clinically depressed they will react differently under this stress than someone who is not.

Boer, Noll, Cierny, Krause, Hiemke and Knepel (2010) stated that the transcription factor of cAMP regulatory element proteins (CREB) regulates adaptive responses like memory consolidation, addiction, and synaptic refinement. If this transcription factor is under stress then the inhibition of stress-induced CREB activation may be a common mechanism of action of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) underlying their antidepressant effect.

Devarajan, Devarajan, and Dursun (2008) researched and found that in major depression (MD); combination treatment has not only been shown to improve short-term response rates but also to boost retention in treatment over the long-term. They went on to state that electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) has been used successfully to treat depression, even before the advent of antidepressants, and in fact, the American Psychiatric Association has recommended ECT as a safe and effective treatment.

If a person is clinically depressed and on either one of the treatments listed above then their reactions in an interrogation will be different based on the stress level provided by the interrogator and by the subject themselves. Some interrogators would argue that they cannot properly interrogate an individual if they are clinically depressed, that statement is judgmental and false. Every individual becomes depressed in their lifetime. If a person has just lost someone they loved they will be in a depressed state of mind, which does not mean that their statements should be looked at inadequately because of this. The interrogator should keep in mind that the subject in front of them, depressed or not, will give feedback based on the receptors they are getting from the interrogator. Every individual's brain uses many neurorecptors and hormones to translate information on an emotional level, interrogators should keep this mind because how they act will remotely set the subject up to how they should act as well.

Brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF) have important roles in learning, motivation, and regulation of mood (Hauck, Kapczinski, Roesler, de Moura Silveira, Magalhaes, Kruel. 2010). Suspects have higher levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factors right after the traumatic event occurs, the BDNFs decrease over time. If a subject is a witness or a suspect in a crime and they are put from one traumatic event into another (being the interrogation and interviewing process) they are mentally unstable to give a concurrent and correct statement. This leads to a false confession on the basis of an individual's biological and psychological makeup at that time.

The skillful interrogator must recognize that in everyone there is some good; for the suspect's good characteristics can be utilized in the effort for a successful interrogation (Grano, J. 1999). If the interrogator looks beyond an individual's mental and emotional state and they try to build an actual relationship with the subject and release the stress and tension around the offense in question, then in all reality a false confession has no way to occur. An interrogator must keep in mind that having a subject in a depressive state is not always a positive thing for them or the case they are working on.


Confessions have such far-reaching and rippling effects within the criminal justice system that researchers have sought to examine modern police interrogation practices and the social influences they produce (Grano, J. 1999). False confessions are happening more and more each day in the criminal justice system and because confessions hold so much in them the need to retrieve a confession in a case is often more important than retrieving physical evidence at the crime scene itself.

In criminal law, confession evidence is the state's most potent weapon. Mock jury studies have shown that confessions are more persuasive than other forms of incriminating evidence, such as eyewitness identifications or character testimony. The insertion of a confession into evidence increases the conviction rate even among mock jurors who believe that the confession was coerced and claim that it did not influence their decision making (Kassin, Goldstein, & Savitsky. 2003).

Confession evidence should not be the most potent weapon in any case, criminal or civil. The judge and jury need to take into consideration the subject's mental and emotional state while they were getting interrogated. The modern police interrogation processes are so powerful that they have been reported at times to have elicited coerced-compliant and coerced-internalized false confessions from innocent people. In addition recent statistics have shown that 73% of defendants were convicted at trial in cases that contained evidence of confessions later proved to be false and 23% of all DNA exoneration cases contained confessions, also apparently false (Kassin, Goldstein, & Savitsky. 2003).

A false confession is a gamble that an interrogator takes every time they get a new suspect, which should not give them the lead way to interrogate that subject however they feel proper at the time. Inbau (1999) stated that there is no question but that police abuses and improper practices in the matter of the questioning of criminal suspects could be virtually eliminated if the courts or the legislatures were to outlaw the use of all confessions as evidence of guilt. If this was made possible then false confessions would not happen because the subject being interrogated would not feel the added stress and tension surrounding the case and the potential outcome for not only themselves but the outcome of the officer doing the interrogation. Officers conducting interrogations feel an extra added stressor to this part of the job because their police department is counting on them to conduct a successful interrogation to get a confession that can either find the suspect guilty or innocent.

With respect to confessions, the courts most certainly should not permit any unsubstantiated confession to be used as evidence if it has been obtained by methods which are apt to make an innocent man confess. But neither should they case aside a trustworthy confession simply because of some such reason as a delay in brining the arrested suspect before a committing magistrate. Courts should not concern themselves with anything beyond a confession's trustworthiness (Inbau, F. 1999).

How is a false confession distinguished from a truthful one? Hansen (1999) stated that a false confession can usually be distinguished from a truthful one depending on whether it includes details about the crime only the offender would know. The danger, he says, is that the false confessor could inadvertently have been provided those details before or during interrogation.

False confessions are a troublesome part of the criminal justice system and when pointed out they become bigger news than the confessions that are truthful. To keep this from occurring more so interrogators should look more at the biological and psychological side of the subject they are interrogating rather than their own ego driven conscience. The improvements which have been made in police administration, practices, and conduct in the past 20 years, and particularly in the matter of interrogation methods, have resulted from improved police selection and training. The disciplinary efforts exerted by the courts have contributed very little (Inbau, F. 1999).


Interrogations are stressful on not only the officer conducting the interrogation but the suspect being interrogated. An individual's mental state and emotional state play the biggest part in rather or not a false confession is given as an outcome of the interrogation. As such, preventive actions should be enacted upon police agencies to help stop false confessions and improve the overall interrogation process so that this form of evidence can better be of use in the court room.

I personally believe that the interrogators should not strive to put the suspect into a depressive state of mind. They should build a relationship with the subject then keep that relationship going they should not manipulate the individual's mental and emotional state for more information. In that process they will receive false information that could lead to an overall false confession due to the fact that the suspect is more willing to tell the interrogator whatever they feel he or she wants to hear so that they can be released and the stress they are under will no longer be established upon them.

Police officers should take more time to learn more about an individual's mental state and emotional state before and after a stressor has been implied that way they can shape their interrogation around that person's state of mind at that given moment. If the suspect is depressed at the given time in the interrogation process then that could hurt the interrogation more so than help like some believe. The suspect is in fact somewhat detached from reality, so in a sense what they state holds very little if any credibility.

Confessions should be used as main evidence in the courtroom; however, false confessions should not. If interrogators take time to learn about the suspect rather than trying to close a case quickly I honestly believe false confessions will become less and less overtime.