Dateline: May, 2007, Issue 3

How does the camera angle of a videotaped confession influence verdicts?

A camera's angle, or perspective, in a videotaped confession can have serious prejudicial effects to defendants in criminal trials.

Lassiter (2002) reviewed social science research and concluded that evaluations of videotaped confessions can be altered by small changes in the camera perspective taken when the confessions are initially recorded. Videotaped confessions recorded with the camera focused on the suspect - compared with videotapes from other camera points of view (e.g., focused equally on the suspect and interrogator) or with more traditional presentation formats (i.e., transcripts and audiotapes) - lead jurors to judge that the confessions were more voluntary and the suspects more likely to be guilty.

Because actual criminal interrogations are customarily videotaped with the camera lens zeroed in on the suspect, Lassiter and colleagues (2002) tested how the prejudicial effects of this camera angle could be mitigated. A corrective judicial instruction was insufficient to mitigate the prejudicial effect that the typical camera perspective had on jurors' assessments of the voluntariness of the confession or on jurors, now more likely, verdicts of guilt. A camera perspective that focuses jurors' attention on the interrogator was found to help jurors better detect coercive influences occurring in the interrogation and improve their assessments of the confession's reliability. Transcripts and audiotapes also circumvent the prejudicial effects of the camera focusing on a suspect during an interrogation.

In sum, a camera that focuses on the suspect, to the exclusion of the interrogator, leads jurors to judge the suspect guilty more often, a bias that corrective judicial instructions are insufficient to overcome.

Source Lassiter, G. D. (2002). Illusory causation in the courtroom. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 11, pp. 204-208.

Source Lassiter, G. D., Geers, A. L., Handley, I. M., Welland, P. E., & Munhall, P. J. (2002). Videotaped interrogations and confessions: A simple change in camera perspective alters verdicts in simulated trials. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, pp. 867-874.