On the power of confession evidence: an experimental test of the fundamental difference hypothesis

Law Hum Behav. 1997 Oct;21(5):469-84. doi: 10.1023/a:1024871622490.


In Arizona v. Fulminante (1991), a U.S. Supreme Court majority stated that confessions are similar to, not fundamentally different from, other types of evidence. To evaluate this claim, three mock juror studies compared the impact of confessions to other common forms of evidence. In Experiment 1, participants read summaries of four criminal trials (murder, rape, assault, theft), each of which contained a confession, an eyewitness identification, character testimony, or none of the above. Significantly, the confessions produced the highest conviction rates. In Experiments 2 and 3, participants read a murder or assault trial containing all three types of evidence and made a series of midtrial judgments. Results indicated that the confession was seen as the most incriminating, followed by the eyewitness and character testimony. Although the comparisons we made are limited in certain respects, our findings suggest that confessions are uniquely potent.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Criminal Law*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Judgment*
  • Male
  • Social Perception*
  • Truth Disclosure*
  • United States