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NWO Veni for Linda Geven for research into false confessions

An NWO Veni application by Linda Geven, Assistant Professor at the Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology, has been honoured. She will spend the next three years conducting research into false confessions in police interrogations.

Linda Geven

Besides teaching, Linda Geven conducts research in the field of legal psychology, an applied discipline that studies social and cognitive processes in the criminal justice system.  Among other things, she focuses on factors that can affect the reliability of police interrogations, how false confessions can come about and how they can be prevented.

Geven is very much looking forward to the research for which the Veni grant has been awarded. ‘In the first year, I’ll be conducting two lab studies in which I’ll look at how false confessions can come about. In contrast to the mostly American literature on extreme pressure, I want to focus on more subtle forms of pressure, namely confessions to undercover officers and the presentation of indirect false evidence. The question to be asked is whether these methods, coming directly from Dutch practice, lead to false confessions and thus less reliable interrogation outcomes.’

In the second year, she will focus on distinguishing true from false confessions.  During this phase, she will also conduct research in the United States. ‘At the moment, we’re unable to tell from the confession itself whether it is true or false. Research into the content of confessions has shown that even false confessions are sometimes very credible. I’ll be focusing more on the linguistic level: using verbal lie detection technology, I want to investigate if there are subtle differences on paper, for example in expressing uncertainty or the use of fewer personal pronouns. In addition, I’ll be building on my doctoral research into physiological recognition of information known only to the offender, in order to distinguish between offenders and false confessors.’

Collaboration with the police

A collaboration with the police in the Hague is planned for the third year. ‘By training police officers in the field of psychology in the interrogation room, I’m going to investigate whether more knowledge would lead to better interrogations and decision-making. I then want to compare this to a large group of lay people, and in the future preferably with judges as well.’ That means a packed schedule for the next three years. ‘Yes, there’s a lot to do, but I’m really looking forward to it!’­­­

The Veni is awarded each year by NWO, the Dutch Research Council. Due to a computer hack and the pandemic, NWO had to change its planning for the 2021 Veni rounds. The Venis in the Science (ENW) domain and the ZonMw domain were announced in December. The awards in the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) domain and Engineering  Sciences domain were announced this week. Besides Geven, this year another nine Leiden researchers were awarded an NWO Veni grant.

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