"it's (not) your fault": The influence of blame mitigation versus guilt induction on true and false confessions

Skye A Woestehoff, University of Texas at El Paso


False confessions remain an important problem facing the criminal justice system. Practitioners assert that blame mitigation techniques can minimize suspects’ perceptions of responsibility independently from legal consequences. However, blame mitigation techniques increase false confessions in part by minimizing suspects’ expectations of punishment. Blame mitigation techniques are also designed to reduce suspects’ feelings of guilt, which may inhibit confessions from guilty suspects given that true confessions are related to feelings of guilt and remorse. Thus, it may be more beneficial to induce guilt rather than mitigate blame in the interrogation room. This dissertation (1) tested practitioners’ assumption that blame mitigation can influence a suspect’s perceptions of his or her responsibility without also affecting expectations of punishment, and (2) assessed whether a guilt induction interrogation technique is a viable alternative to blame mitigation. Participants watched a videotaped interrogation (Experiment 1) or experienced an interrogation about cheating (Experiment 2) that included direct questioning, blame mitigation, or guilt induction techniques. Blame mitigation lowered participants’ expectations of punishment, but did not affect participants’ perceptions of their responsibility (Experiment 2). Across both experiments, guilt induction failed to induce feelings of guilt, potentially because participants may not have had a strong enough relationship with the interrogator and with the victim. Additionally, no interrogation technique differentially affected confessions, perhaps because the direct questioning and guilt induction techniques were too accusatorial in nature. Future research should seek to refine the guilt induction technique and explore whether guilt induction is a better alternative to blame mitigation.

Subject Area

Behavioral psychology|Psychology

Recommended Citation

Woestehoff, Skye A, ""it's (not) your fault": The influence of blame mitigation versus guilt induction on true and false confessions" (2016). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI10151185.