That is the question Cynthia Najdowski explores in an interesting new article, “Stereotype Threat in Criminal Interrogations: Why Innocent Black Suspects are at Risk for Confessing Falsely,” 17 Pscyh., Pub. Pol’y & L. 562 (2011). A growing body of empirical research does indeed suggest that blacks are more likely to give a false confession than whites, but why?
Najdowski’s paper does not present any new empirical research of her own, but she does offer a new hypothesis to explain the racial disparity in confessions. Prior scholarship has attempted to account for the disparity by reference to (1) “cross-cultural differences in nonverbal communication styles, which would cause Black suspects to appear more deceptive and police investigators to put more pressure on them to confess”; and (2) “status differences in speech patterns,” leading black suspects to “react to false accusations with denials, hostility, and defensiveness, which probably solidifies investigators’s suspicions” and thereby also prompts greater pressure on the suspects to confess. (563)
To these theories, Najdowski adds a new “stereotype threat” hypothesis.