Policing Myths

unknownThe Police Believe a Lot of Psychology Myths Related to Their Work


“Training of UK police is in many areas strongly evidence-based, yet the police group were as likely to endorse the psychological misconceptions as the lay participants…”

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.

“Despite recent improvements to their training, a new studyin the journal of Police and Criminal Psychology suggests the police are as susceptible as the general public to holding false beliefs about psychology that apply to their work. The research, conducted in the UK, also showed that police officers have more confidence than the public in their false beliefs.

“Chloe Chaplin, a programme facilitator at the London Probation Trust, and Julia Shaw, senior lecturer at South Bank university, recruited 44 UK police and other law enforcement officers and 56 participants with jobs unrelated to law enforcement, who were recruited via posters and social media, mostly from outside a university setting.

“Participants were quizzed on a number of topics: police procedures and interrogations, for instance whether they agreed wrongly that ‘People only confess when they have actually committed the crime they are being charged with’; courts – measured by gauging mistaken agreement with statements like ‘Eye-witnesses are always the most reliable source of case-related information’; their beliefs about the effects of toughness on crime – ‘Capital punishment is an effective way to deter criminal activity’; their beliefs about mental illness – ‘Most mentally ill individuals are violent’; and beliefs about memory and cognition, in this case measured through their agreement with items like ‘If you are the victim of a violent crime, your memory for the perpetrators face will be perfect.’ All of the above items, plus several others used in the research, are unsupported by research evidence, and were sprinkled in among true statements.

“Training of UK police is in many areas strongly evidence-based, yet the police group were as likely to endorse the psychological misconceptions as the lay participants, having faith on average in 18 of the 50 false statements (vs. 19 among the public). A breakdown showed better performance only in one area, the courts subscale; in others, even those such as interview techniques where UK police receive standardised, evidence-based training, the police performed as poorly as the public. On top of this, the police showed greater confidence than the public that their false beliefs were correct. Expertise can breed overconfidence, with possibly severe consequences when the stakes are so high: the mentally ill and younger suspects are at particular risk of making false confessions, for example.

“The research suggests that policing continues to be a worrying example of where there is a “science-practitioner gap” (i.e. modern research findings are failing to filter through to those working on the ground) – a problem that is familiar to psychologists from other occupational areas such as therapyand human resources. Chaplin and Shaw recommend more police training, but they emphasise such training needs to take account of real-life contexts to be convincing, and it needs to be persuasive enough to displace existing beliefs.”


Chaplin, C., & Shaw, J. (2015). Confidently Wrong: Police Endorsement of Psycho-Legal Misconceptions Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology DOI: 10.1007/s11896-015-9182-5

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    1. I cannot refrain from noting that, again, a perverse and widespread attitude of anti-intellectualism continues to reign. My argument for police-university collaboration rises again and for an evidence-based body of knowledge. Right now, the basic period for police training academies should be no less than two years in length and the training be evidence-based. How long can we continue this pandering ignorance?


  1. You get no argument from me, Rev Couper. I am surprised with our level of anti-intellectualism and the way we treat math and science in this country that we have not gone back to living like the cave man


  2. I think one reason why we have such an anti-intellectualism (although I don’t have facts to back it up) is that our Founding Fathers (who were wealthy people) did not trust the rest of the population to be responsible if they were allowed to have a voice in government and it would lead to mob rule and the Founding Fathers thought that only people of their class could decide what is best. Besides, I don’t think they wanted the rest of the population to be educated and be able to critically look at things and question the economic quo of post-Colonial America where we traded one rich class for another one. In addition, Ronald Reagan when he was governor of California did not like the state having free education because in his words: “should not subsidize intellectual curiosity.”


  3. Too bad, guys like Thomas Jefferson and Abe Lincoln did not put an amendment on curbing corporate power. Thomas Jefferson warned us about the rise of private banks and said that merchants have no allegiance to the country where they were born. Abe Lincoln fear the rise of corporate power.


  4. Here is an article about creating future leaders for the Californa Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. Frankly, I don’t know how they are going to do it considering the fact how are they going to select the right people instead of having people who got to where they were by playing office politics and never were good leaders despite the fact that many of them had 10 to 25 years of being in leadership positions? Will they develop good leadership skills or go back to their old style of leadership as usual? Will they look and develop their subordinates or just not care about their workforce? http://www.csuchico.edu/news/current-news/1-11-17-chico-leadership-department-corrections.shtml.


  5. Another problem with simulating police intellectual curiosity at the America’s elite colleges is that colleges in the last 37 years are catering to students from the wealthy families, children of alumni parents, and/or children from the faculty staff that teaches at those colleges. This is heavily talked about in the book titled The Price of Admission. How many of those students will be interested in being a police officer once they graduate? In addition, a couple of people in the same book also stated that attending America’s elite college is about establishing a network system with the political, social, and economic members of society so they can help you get a job when you graduate and help you find a job when you lose your current job. Pretty much explains how members of the Bush Family also manage to land on their feet despite the fact that they and other wealthy members of society ran their companies into the ground


  6. Myth #1 The 10 amendments created rights. They only recognized rights that already existed. Many did not want those amendments created. They thought they would be used to deny “other rights retained by the people” and they were correct. The court now acts as though the bill of rights was created to give persons rights and ignore their preamble which presented the bill of rights as a limit on government power. the other rights retained by the people is virtually disrespected and ignored.

    Myth #2 Lying is honorable.
    Myth #3 Lies get the truth.
    Myth #4 Liars get respect.
    Myth #5 Police are honorable, trustworthy, and deserve respect as they are trained liars.


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