Being easy to communicate might make verdicts based on confessions more legitimate


  • Mercier Hugo
  • Hacquin Anne-Sophie
  • Claidière Nicolas


  • Confessions
  • Legitimacy
  • Communication
  • Cultural transmission

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In many judicial systems, confessions are a requirement for criminal conviction. Even if confessions are intrinsically convincing, this might not entirely explain why they play such a paramount role. In addition, it has been suggested that confessions owe their importance to their legitimizing role, explaining why they could be required even when other evidence has convinced a judge. But why would confessions be particularly suited to justify verdicts? One possibility is that they can be more easily transmitted from one individual to the next, and thus spread in the population without losing their convincingness. 360 English-speaking participants were asked to evaluate the convincingness of one of three justifications for a verdict, grounded either in a confession, eyewitnesses, or circumstantial evidence, and to pass on that justification to another participant, who performed the same task. Then, 240 English-speaking participants evaluated the convincingness of some of the justifications produced by the first group of participants. Compared to the other justifications, justifications based on confessions lost less of their convincingness in the transmission process (small to medium effect sizes). Modeling pointed to the most common forms the justifications would take as they are transmitted, and results showed that the most common variant of the justification based on a confession was more convincing (small to medium effect sizes).

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