Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Snitches Lie

Here's another one from the "no shit" file. In what is reported to be the first study of its type (via TalkLeft), researchers have discovered that people who are given "incentives" for "secondary confessions" - i.e., snitches who are doing it to help themselves out - are likely to be bullshitting:

A study by psychology researchers Jessica K. Swanner and Denise R. Beike investigated how 129 research volunteers would respond if offered an incentive for information and found that incentives tended to increase the reporting of false information.

'The results of our study were interesting but discouraging,' Beike said. 'An incentive actually did the opposite. It brought forward not the reluctant informant, but the opportunistic.'
According to the abstract of the study (linked at TalkLeft), the researches thought going in that giving incentives would really increase veracity. I have no idea why and imagine they must not have spent a lot of time in the criminal justice system.

Does this mean that every time someone comes forward and drops a dime on someone he or she is lying? No. It means that lawyers, judges, and juries should be very skeptical of such evidence when it is presented and not take it at face value.

UPDATE: A couple of things, spurred by the comment of Anonymous (who may, or may not, be who s/he says s/he is).

First, the link at TalkLeft I referenced is actually a press release type device, not an abstract. My bad.

Second, I may have misread a quote attributed to one of the researchers, to wit:
With the use of incentives, we should have seen an increase in true secondary confessions. But an incentive actually did the opposite.
My reading of "we should have seen" is equivalent to "this is what we thought would happen." I suppose you could read it as "in a perfect world, it would be good if this would happen," but the research didn't back that up. I'll admit I could be wrong, but it's not exactly clear. If I am wrong, I apologize for the flippant remark above.

Regardless, the important part of this story is not what the researchers thought they would discover going in, but what they actually did learn in the end. And, for that, I thank them for their efforts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am the first author of this article. I just wanted to point out that you have misrepresented our research/our hypothesis. We predicted that incentives would increase false secondary confessions not true ones. Proponents of the use of incentives for secondary confessions argue that incentives are designed to bring forward reluctant informants. If you would like you can find the full article online at the Law and Human Behavior website instead of only reading the abstract.