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False Accusations in an Investigative Context: Differences between Suggestible and Non-suggestible Witnesses


Correspondence to: Suzanne Kaasa, Westat, 1600 Research Boulevard, Rockville, MD, 20850. E-mail:


False sexual abuse allegations have spurred research on suggestibility, on the assumption that leading questions may produce false accusations. Most researchers, however, have not measured the likelihood that those who respond to suggestive questioning will take the next step and make a formal (false) accusation. The present study incorporates both aspects of abuse investigations: suggestibility (i.e., responsiveness to questions in a leading interview) and false accusations (i.e., signing a formal complaint against an innocent suspect). Participants (N = 129) were observed in a laboratory session and then interviewed twice about their experiences by an interviewer who suggested that the laboratory assistant had behaved inappropriately. Although only 17% of the participants were suggestible, 39% agreed to sign the complaint. Suggestible participants were significantly more likely to make a false accusation than were non-suggestible participants. However, because of the low rate of suggestibility, most false accusations were made by non-suggestible participants. Implications for the legal system are discussed. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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