The Science-Based Pathways to Understanding False Confessions and Wrongful Convictions

Gisli H. Gudjonsson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


This review shows that there is now a solid scientific evidence base for the “expert” evaluation of disputed confession cases in judicial proceedings. Real-life cases have driven the science by stimulating research into “coercive” police questioning techniques, psychological vulnerabilities to false confession, and the development and validation of psychometric tests of interrogative suggestibility and compliance. Mandatory electronic recording of police interviews has helped with identifying the situational and personal “risk factors” involved in false confessions and how these interact. It is the combination of a detailed evaluation and analysis of real-life cases, experimental work, and community (and prison/police station) studies that have greatly advanced the science over the past 40 years. In this review, the story of the development of the science during this “golden era” is told through the three established error pathways to false confessions and wrongful convictions: misclassification, coercion, and contamination. A case study of a major miscarriage of justice is used to highlight the key issues at each stage of the error pathways and it shows the continued resistance of the judiciary to admit mistakes and learn from them. Science is a powerful platform from which to educate the police and the judiciary.

Original languageEnglish
Article number633936
Pages (from-to)633936
Number of pages15
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 22 Feb 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2021 Gudjonsson.

Other keywords

  • case studies
  • community studies
  • experimental studies
  • false confessions
  • memory distrust syndrome
  • science-based pathways
  • wrongful convictions


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