Sleep deprivation leads to false confessions

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Sleep deprivation may lead individuals to confess to crimes they did not commit, according to a recent American study. Famous psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, who has been studying false memories for many years, is amongst its authors. Researchers have asked 88 students to collect data on computer in two separate sessions for a week. The subjects received repeated warnings that if they pressed the escape key they would delete all the researchers’ data. On the night after the second session, half of the participants slept at the lab and the others were kept awake with electronic games, television and video. In the morning, participants were asked to sign a false statement claiming that they had pressed the escape key. Half of the sleep-deprived individuals signed the statement, compared to the only 18 percent of individuals who had slept restfully. In a country such as the US, where 17 percent of criminal interrogations occur during normal hours of sleep, i.e. between midnight and eight a.m., and wrongful convictions, based on false confessions, are estimated to represent 15 to 25 percent of total convictions, this study has great relevance, showing that sleep deprivation increases the likelihood of a person confessing to crimes and irregularities he/she did not commit.

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