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Sleep Deprivation & False Confessions

February 9, 2016

Sleep deprivation may lead people to confess to things they haven’t done.



Sleep deprived confessions. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Just one night of sleep deprivation nearly triples the rate that people will confess to something they didn’t do, according to new research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Michigan State University psychologist Kimberly Fenn says volunteers were given computer tasks and told not to hit the Escape key, since doing so would ruin their data. They then spent a night at Fenn’s laboratory; half could sleep, while the other half had to stay up. The next morning, they were accused of hitting the Escape key and asked to sign a confession.

KIMBERLY FENN (Michigan State University):

When participants were fully rested, only eighteen percent of them signed their false confession. However, when they were kept awake at night, fifty percent did, the first time we asked them. So it was a pretty large effect.


The research raises questions about the validity of confessions people sign under stressful conditions. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.