Science

Why Innocent People Confess to Crimes

Think you wouldn't break under pressure? Think again.

Convicted on a false confession; exonerated after 29 years.

Photographer: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

An economics professor made the audacious suggestion a few years ago that the medieval practice of trial by ordeal “worked” because innocent people were more likely than guilty ones to pick up pieces of hot iron or plunge their bare hands into boiling oil. The practice depended on suspects having unwavering faith that God would save the truly innocent from third-degree burns. And the priests in charge could temper the heat, just in case God wasn’t paying attention.

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