Guðjónsson and Mackeith (1990)

Guðjónsson and Mackeith (1990) – ‘A Proven Case of False Confession: Psychological Aspects of the Coerced-compliant type’, Medicine Science and the Law 30, 329-35


This is the third study we look at from the ‘Interviewing Suspects’ section of ‘Making a case’. As part of your OCR A2 Psychology Exam. It is further categorised into ‘False Confession

Guðjónsson and Mackeith (1990) is a case study about a 17 year old boy who confessed to a crime and was subsequently imprisoned for one year. Later it was found out that his confession was false and he was not guilty of committing the crime. Guðjónsson and Mackeith wondered how such false confessions can arise.

Guðjónsson (1992) suggests there are three types of false confessions:

Voluntary – This is when a person freely confesses to a crime.

Coerced Internalised – This occurs when a suspect doesn’t remember where they were when the crime they are suspected of committing was committed. From that point they can be lead to believe that they did in fact commit the crime, even when there is no evidence to suggest that they did commit the crime. The person internalises the idea that they did commit the crime, from that point they start to believe it and then they confess. This can lead to false memories, which you may remember from your AS studies with the Loftus et al., (1974) study.

Coerced Compliant – This occurs when a suspect is put under pressure, similar to in Milgram’s infamous 1963 study, such that they confess, as the person conducting the interrogation wants them to.

In order to quantify a persons susceptibility to giving false confessions Gísli Guðjónsson created a scale called the ‘Guðjónsson suggestibility scale,’ which attempted to measure both:

Yield – Yield refers to an individuals susceptibility to suggestive questioning.

Shift – Shift refers to the suspect changing their answers as a result of the interrogation process and pressure.

The scale is measured via a test. The test consists of a narrative paragraph, which is read to the subject. Afterwards, the subject reports everything they can remember about the story. Later, the subject is questioned about the story, some of the questions lead them to false answers and some of them do not. After answering the questions a first time, the person being tested is told in a forceful manner that they have made a number of errors and must answer the questions for a second time. This leads to the person making even more errors than they made the first time.

Unfortunately, only approved people can view and use the Guðjónsson scale, so unless you have seen it, we cannot know exactly what it contains, but here’s a video explaining the Guðjónsson scale:


To document the case of the false confession of a youth who was at the time of the confession distressed and susceptible to interrogative pressure.

Method and Design

A case study of a one 17 year old boy.


A 17 year old boy accused of two murders. Throughout the case his identity is protected an he is referred to as FC. He was of slightly below average intelligence: his IQ was 94. FC suffered from no mental illnesses and his personality was not obviously abnormal.


The alleged crimes he committed: in 1987 two elderly women were found battered to death in their homes. Both the women’s savings were stolen and there was evidence of sexual assault. A few days later FC was arrested because he presented some inconsistencies in his account of his movements during an earlier routine enquiry and because he was spending more money than usual (All of which is highly circumstantial and does not prove outright that FC did in fact commit the crimes). There was also no forensic evidence to link him to the crime. After he was arrested he was not allowed access to a solicitor and was interviewed at length by the Police leading his confession (not being allow access to legal representation in the UK is illegal under PACE 1984). The next day he repeated his confession in front of a solicitor and he later wrote a statement from jail, which incriminated himself. After a year in jail he was released by a court after another person pleaded guilty to the crime.

The Police interviews: FC’s first interview lasted for nearly 14 hours with breaks. Five officers questioned him. To start with FC denied being near the scene, but after being repeatedly accused of lying he agreed that he had been there. Many questions were leading and accusatory and many suggested he was sexually impotent, which he found very distressing.

The following are examples of real dialogue from the case.

Officer 1: ‘Look son, you’ve got the opportunity to tell your side of the story. Don’t throw it away. I’m prepared to listen and help you where I can, but you have got to start talking and help yourself.’

Senior detective: ‘I can tell you truthfully that what these officers are telling you is right. I believe that you were in the house that night and something went terribly wrong’.

Notice how similar this is to The Reid Technique, which is illegal in the United Kingdom.

In a second interview the next day in front of a duty solicitor, he retracted his statement only to confess again under pressure about his failure to have successful relationships with women. After this there were three further interviews.

Psychiatric Examination: In prison FC was examined by psychiatrists and no evidence of mental illness was found, but he did score 10 for suggestibility on the Guðjónsson Suggestibility Scale making him abnormal in this respect. As mentioned before, his IQ was slightly below average at 94. From the Eysenck’s Personality Inventory (EPI) he was found to be a stable extrovert.


This is a case of a ‘coerced compliant’ false confession, meaning that he gave into pressure during the interviews in order to escapes from an intolerable situation. It shows that this can happen to anyone, not just the mentally ill, mentally handicapped or illiterates. Following his release, FC appeared to undergo a change of personality, his experiences hardened his and his self-confidence improved.

Guðjónsson and Mackeith  Evaluation


+ Ecological Validity, as the study used a real case, we can say that the study  is high in ecological validity.

+ Ethics, as the identity of FC is was hidden, we can say this study is ethical.

+ Usefulness – the study presents information, which would be useful in preventing further false confessions and implementing safeguards to protect those who may be susceptible to interrogation techniques. It also shows a vulnerability in using confessions as evidence in criminal trails.

– Generalisability – Case studies have small samples and are therefore not generalisable.

+ Reliability – the Guðjónsson suggestibility scale is a highly reliable method.

– Ethnocentrism and Androcentrism, the study was only focused on one male, the results are therefore not generalisable to a wider population.

+ Construct Validity, the results of the study showed support for the Guðjónsson Suggestibility Scale and for the ‘coerced compliant’ false confessions.



Audio Podcast


Guðjónsson and Mackeith (1990) – ‘A Proven Case of False Confession: Psychological Aspects of the Coerced-compliant type’, Medicine Science and the Law 30, 329-35


Further Reading

OCR A2 Psychology Student Unit Guide: Unit G543: Forensic Psychology (Student Unit Guides)


Article Name
Guðjónsson and Mackeith (1990)
Guðjónsson and Mackeith (1990) - 'A Proven Case of False Confession: Psychological Aspects of the Coerced-compliant type', Medicine Science and the Law 30,

2 thoughts on “Guðjónsson and Mackeith (1990)

  1. Hello there! Just wanted to thank you for this site, it is literally the only thing getting me through my revision! Just wanted to ask, regarding the theory of there being 3 types of false confession, was that not Kassin and Wrightsman (1985) who posed that rather than Gujonsson?

    1. Yes, I believe you are correct, but Gudjonsson referenced it. So mentioning either or in the exam will suffice.

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