False confessions and the relationship with offending behaviour and personality among Danish adolescents


Correspondence should be addressed to Professor Gisli H. Gudjonsson, Department of Psychology (PO 78), Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, Denmark Hill, London SE5 8AF, UK (e-mail: g.gudjonsson@iop.kcl.ac.uk).


Purpose. The main aim of the study was to examine false confessions to police, parents and teachers and their relationship to personality and self-reported offending.

Method. The participants were 715 students in further education in Denmark. Each was asked about false admissions made to teachers and parents in the past, as well as about confessions or denials (true and false) made to the police during questioning. The participants completed questionnaires relating to offending and personality.

Results. Seventy-three (10%) of the participants said they had been interrogated by the police, of whom thirty-seven (51%) said they had committed the offence. Five (7%) said they had given a false confession to police, whereas one hundred and seven (15%) of the total sample said they had given a false confession to parents or teachers. False confessions to teachers and parents were best predicted by the rate of self-reported offending and high compliance. The single most commonly reported reason for making a false confession was to protect a friend.

Conclusions. The findings in the present study corroborate many of those found in similar Icelandic studies, although there were some differences, including fewer people being interrogated in Denmark and a higher base-rate of innocence of those interrogated. The study indicates that false confessions to police do happen on occasions which needs to be recognized by the authorities.