Sleep deprivation may lead individuals to confess to crimes they did not commit, new research suggests.
In the study, which appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers asked 88 undergraduate students to complete computer tasks in two sessions separated by a week. The students repeatedly received warnings that pressing the escape key would erase the researchers’ data.
The night after the second session, half of the participants slept in the laboratory and the others were kept awake with food, television and video games.
In the morning, the subjects were asked to sign a statement falsely alleging that they pressed the escape key. Half of the sleep-deprived individuals signed it, compared with 18 percent of the rested subjects.
“It’s true, this is a far cry from confession to a murder. But we do know we can also get people to confess to things with more serious consequences,” said Elizabeth Loftus, a cognitive psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, and one of the study’s authors.
As many as 17 percent of interrogations occur during normal sleep hours, midnight to 8 a.m., the study notes.
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