An investment banker was brutally raped and beaten while jogging in New York’s Central Park in 1989. Five teenage boys confessed and served up to 13 years in prison before being exonerated by DNA evidence and a real confession from a serial rapist, says NPR. The Central Park Five confessed because they’d been coerced by police, they said. Don’t think it could happen to you? A study showed that it easily could. With a little misinformation, encouragement and three hours, researchers convinced 70 percent of participants they’d committed a crime. The college-age students who participated didn’t merely confess. They recalled full-blown, detailed experiences, says researcher Julia Shaw of the University of Bedfordshire in England.
The results were “definitely unexpected,” says Shaw, who predicted only a 30 percent rate. How did they plant false memories of a crimes in young adults who never had even been in contact with the police? Shaw and another researcher got a few facts about the faux criminal’s teen years from parents or a guardian. Then, during three 45-minute interviews, Shaw extracted information from the students about one true experience (which they remembered) and one fabricated experience (of which she convinced them). After a few hours of feeding the students tidbits of the verified info, she added them up to equal her fabricated crime — and a majority of students were persuaded: They were criminals.