Temporal discounting: The differential effect of proximal and distal consequences on confession decisions

Stephanie Madon, Max Guyll, Kyle C. Scherr, Sarah Greathouse, Gary L. Wells

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations

Abstract

Drawing on the psychological principle that proximal consequences influence behavior more strongly than distal consequences, the authors tested the hypothesis that criminal suspects exhibit a short-sightedness during police interrogation that increases their risk for confession. Consistent with this hypothesis, Experiment 1 showed that participants (N = 81) altered how frequently they admitted to criminal and unethical behaviors during an interview to avoid a proximal consequence even though doing so increased their risk of incurring a distal consequence. Experiment 2 (N = 143) yielded the same pattern, but with a procedure that reversed the order of the proximal and distal consequences, thereby ruling out the possibility that it was the unique characteristics of the consequences rather than their proximity that influenced the admission rate. The authors discuss the supported psychological process as a potential explanation for several well-established findings reported in the literature on confessions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-20
Number of pages8
JournalLaw and Human Behavior
Volume36
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2012

Keywords

  • criminal confessions
  • police interrogation
  • temporal discounting

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