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Stereotype Threat in Criminal Interrogations: Why Innocent Black Suspects are at Risk for Confessing Falsely

Publication Date:
Jan 2011
Project Programs:
Cultural Contact

Little theoretical attention has been paid to evidence that Blacks are overrepresented in samples of false confessors compared to Whites. One possible explanation is that innocent Black suspects experience stereotype threat in interrogations and that this threat causes Black suspects to experience more arousal, self-regulatory efforts, and cognitive load compared to White suspects. These psychological mechanisms could lead innocent Black suspects to display more nonverbal behaviors associated with deception and, ironically, increase the likelihood that police investigators perceive them as guilty. In response, investigators might engage in more coercive tactics and exert more pressure to confess on Black suspects than White suspects. This could increase the need to escape interrogation and the likelihood of doing so by confessing falsely more for Blacks than for Whites. I present these hypotheses within a social psychological framework, and discuss future directions for testing the model and theoretical and practical implications of such work. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2011 APA, all rights reserved)

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