Category Archives: Interviewing

Free access to Sage journals gives you a chance to read all about science and pseudoscience in policing

Once again Sage Journals is throwing its archive open – you can get free access to all Sage journals until 31 October if you register first. A great opportunity to stock up on articles in journals that you or your library don’t subscribe to.

Can I, in particular, recommend you take a look at the latest issue of Criminal Justice and Behavior? It’s a special on “Pseudoscientific Policing Practices and Beliefs” pulled together by guest editor Brent Snook. Scott Lilienfeld and Kristin Landfield’s overview of science and pseudoscience is just ok (I don’t think it’s as good as it could be), but there are useful reviews (among others) of hypnosis in a legal setting (Graham Wagstaff), of detecting deception (Aldert Vrij), and of false confessions (Saul Kassin). These reviews will prove invaluable if you’re new to these areas of research or need a refresher.

Also in this issue, Snook and colleagues examine why criminal profiling is so seductive, when much of what passes for profiling is simply – according to the authors – “smoke and mirrors”. They conclude:

There is a growing belief that profilers can accurately and consistently predict a criminal’s characteristics based on crime scene evidence… We contend that this belief is illusory because a critical analysis of research on CP [criminal profiling] showed that the field lacks theoretical grounding and empirical support.

And there’s an extraordinary and provocative critique of the FBI’s programme to introduce Critical Incident Stress Debriefing for its agents, co-authored by a former agent who was involved in the programme. The authors bemoan the fact that although the business of “law enforcement is inextricably tied to facts, objectivity, organization, and high standards of proof” (p.1342), the FBI did not (according to the authors) apply the same standards when evaluating a stress debriefing programme for its agents. The evidence for the effectiveness of CISD is scant, argue the authors (and there is some evidence that CISD may even be harmful to people exposed to severe trauma). So, the authors explain: “We are thus compelled to consider how an idea so poorly grounded and so seriously discredited came to hold so tenacious a footing in the employee assistance practices of what is arguably the world’s most sophisticated law enforcement agency” (p.1342). Newbold, Lohr and Gist’s concluding comments could serve as an epitaph for the entire issue:

Pseudoscience finds its foothold where the blurring of boundaries allows the imperatives of evidentiary warrant shared by both domains to become compromised. It takes many years of training and experience to become competent as either a law enforcement agent or a psychologist, and either role requires strong focus and strict boundaries to be executed effectively. Police officers who want to play shrink and psychologists who want to play cop run a serious risk of blurring those boundaries.

Here are the contents in full:

  • Brent Snook – Introduction to the Special Issue: Pseudoscientific Policing Practices and Beliefs
  • Scott O. Lilienfeld and Kristin Landfield – Science and Pseudoscience in Law Enforcement: A User-Friendly Primer
  • Michael G. Aamodt – Reducing Misconceptions and False Beliefs in Police and Criminal Psychology
  • John Turtle and Stephen C. Want – Logic and Research Versus Intuition and Past Practice as Guides to Gathering and Evaluating Eyewitness Evidence
  • Brent Snook, Richard M. Cullen, Craig Bennell, Paul J. Taylor, and Paul Gendreau – The Criminal Profiling Illusion: What’s Behind the Smoke and Mirrors?
  • Graham F. Wagstaff – Hypnosis and the Law: Examining the Stereotypes
  • William G. Iacono – Effective Policing: Understanding How Polygraph Tests Work and Are Used
  • Saul M. Kassin – Confession Evidence: Commonsense Myths and Misconceptions
  • Aldert Vrij – Nonverbal Dominance Versus Verbal Accuracy in Lie Detection: A Plea to Change Police Practice
  • Katherine M. Newbold, Jeffrey M. Lohr, and Richard Gist – Apprehended Without Warrant: Issues of Evidentiary Warrant for Critical Incident Services and Related Trauma Interventions in a Federal Law Enforcement Agency
  • David C. Flagel and Paul Gendreau – Commentary: Sense, Common Sense, and Nonsense

Line-ups, eyewitness memory and camera perspective bias in videotaped confessions

Three articles of forensic interest in the June 2008 issue of Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied (Volume 14, Issue 2):

  • Lineup composition, suspect position, and the sequential lineup advantage by Curt A. Carlson, Scott D. Gronlund and Steven E. Clark
  • Forgetting the once-seen face: Estimating the strength of an eyewitness’s memory representation by Kenneth A. Deffenbacher, Brian H. Bornstein, E. Kiernan McGorty, and Steven D. Penrod
  • Camera perspective bias in videotaped confessions: Evidence that visual attention is a mediator by Lezlee J. Ware, G. Daniel Lassiter, Stephen M. Patterson and Michael R. Ransom

Forthcoming conference on interviewing and deception

The 3rd International Conference on Investigative Interviewing will be held 16-18 June 2008 in Quebec, Canada. The theme is “The Search for the Truth”. According to the website:

This conference is mainly addressed to:
• investigators and civilian and police personnel from Québec, Canadian, and international police forces;
• investigators from Quebec, Canadian, and international governmental organizations;
• academics and researchers from fields closely related to investigations;
• and Crown Attorneys.

The chair of the Scientific committee, Michel St Yves writes:

The statements of witnesses, victims and suspects, represent a considerable part of the work conducted by investigators. Testimonials and facts must be brought together in order to solve the puzzle. Testimonials bring meaning to the facts and make them live. It is through testimonials that we establish the truth.

It is with tremendous pride that I invite you to participate in the third great assembly. The search for the truth through witness, victim, and suspect accounts, is at the very essence of the pursuit for justice.

More details, including a programme, details of speakers and a registration form on the conference website. (Note: the site doesn’t work properly with Opera but it’s fine with Firefox and IE.)

Articles in the APA Monitor for October

articleSome articles of forensic interest in the October 2007 issue of the APA’s Monitor on Psychology 38(9):

  • APA’s council calls for ban on torture: APA names specific torture methods that the U.S. government should prohibit.
  • Stay involved or get out? APA members deliberate whether psychologists should play a role in military interrogations.
  • Evil’s mundane roots: Three renowned behavioral scientists illuminate the triggers of our darkest behaviors.
  • Stop the genocide: Several psychologists are working to end Darfur’s ethnic cleansing.
  • Deeper than sticks and stones: Discrimination not only undermines a person’s self-worth, it can destroy family life.
  • Psychologists’ testimony may not help: Judges and juries tend to trust their guts over psychologists’ testimony, speakers report.

    Faking bad on the Gudjonsson Suggestibility Scales

    Julian Boon, Lynsey Gozna and Stephen Hall have a paper forthcoming in the journal Personality and Individual Differences exploring whether it’s possible to ‘fake bad’ on the Gudjonsson Suggestibility Scales (GSS). These tests measure ‘Interrogative Suggestibility’ (IS), which is defined as “the extent to which, within a closed social interaction, people come to accept messages communicated during formal questioning, as a result of which their subsequent behavioural response is affected” (Gudjonsson & Clark, 1986, p. 84). People who are high in IS are more susceptible to making false confessions under interrogative pressure, in a police or military interrogation scenario, for instance. However, as the authors point out, some offenders might be motivated to appear suggestible or vulnerable even if they are not. For instance, if an offender wanted to retract a statement or confession, or “in circumstances where the successful demonstration of vulnerability may lead to a reduction in a fine or sentence or even to escaping a custodial sentence”.

    Gudjonsson’s tests for suggestibility are now quite widely known and it’s relatively easy to find information about the procedure on the internet. This presents a problem: the reliability of the GSS depends on test takers being unaware of the purpose of the test. Boon et al. thus explored whether knowledge of the purpose of the test influenced performance, as well as examining the performance of those who deliberately tried to fake bad.

    The ‘test aware’ group in this study performed differently on the suggestibility measures compared to the fakers and to a control group who had just been given the standard test. The fakers also produced a different pattern of results. Comparing the fakers’ results on suggestibility measures to the norms for individuals who are mentally impaired revealed that the results were almost identical. However, fakers could be discriminated from genuinely mentally impaired people because they performed better on a test of memory. The authors suggest that this unusual combination of results could be a ‘red flag’ for faking bad:

    Specifically, this red-flag could be where individuals’ scoring profiles revealed near identical scores on the principal suggestibility measures to those of the intellectually disabled norms, while simultaneously they were scoring significantly higher on the free recall measures.

    The authors report that the interviewer administering the tests didn’t know which conditions participants had been allocated to, but tried to guess. She was only correct 58% of the time, suggesting that participants were good at fooling the interviewer. This shows the value of being able to detect faking via measures in the tests rather than simply relying on the judgement of the interviewer.

    The limitations of this study are the usual ones – participants were undergraduate students whose motivation for faking bad is probably rather less than that of real criminals trying to escape a prison sentence.


    Abstract below the fold.

    Continue reading Faking bad on the Gudjonsson Suggestibility Scales

    Shyness, suggestibility and aggressive driving

    shynessThe journal Personality and Individual Differences covers wide range of interesting material and there’s usually one or two articles in each issue that have relevance to forensic issues, either directly or in directly. Here’s a selection from recent and forthcoming issues.

    In the September issue, Gisli Gudjonsson and colleagues report that individuals with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were not more suggestible in an interview situation than a control participants without ADHD. Gudjonsson et al. explain that ADHD participants didn’t yield to misinformation, leading questions and interrogative pressure, though they did give a disproportionate number of “don’t know” replies.

    In November’s issue, researchers from Carlton University in Ontario report results of a study exploring whether shy eye-witnesses differ from non-shy witnesses when it comes to recall memory and susceptibility to misinformation. Contrary to predictions, they don’t (although the shy ones do get more stressed about it). It’s always interesting when you get negative results, or results that contradict existing findings. But my interest in this particular study is tempered by the fact that the ‘witnesses’ were watching a filmed mock crime rather than a genuine event.

    Finally, in the December issue (which is already online), Murray Millar from the University of Nevada examines the relationship between emotion, personality and behaviour. He found that although people may get angry when they are driving, they are less likely to behave aggressively if they are the sort of person who cares a lot about what others think of them, a trait known as public self-consciousness. Miller explains:

    Private self-consciousness is the tendency to focus attention upon the inner aspects of oneself such as thoughts, inner feelings, and physical sensations. Public self-consciousness is the tendency to focus attention on the self as a social object. People high in public self-consciousness are concerned about what other people think about them and how they appear to others

    Miller concludes:

    The current study indicates that when people are angry public self-consciousness influences whether anger leads to aggressive behavior. Overall, the relationship between personality and aggression is likely to involve a constellation of personality traits with some traits predisposing people to anger and other traits predisposing people to express anger as aggressive behavior. At a practical level, the present study suggests that when attempting to reduce aggressive driving behaviors it might be useful to focus on variables that combine with anger to produce aggression. For example, a combination of interventions aimed at reducing anger and increasing public self-consciousness, at least while driving, may reduce the amount of aggressive driving behavior.

    What’s true for aggressive driving behaviour may well be true for other forms of aggressive behaviour too.


    Photo credit: cheesebikini, Creative Commons License

    Conference Announcement: Interrogations & Confessions

    Interrogations & Confessions: A Conference Exploring Research, Practice, and Policy will be held September 27-29, 2007 at the University of Texas at El Paso. Here’s how the organisers describe it:

    This two-and-a-half-day conference will provide a unique forum within which social scientists, legal scholars, law enforcement professionals, and clinicians might be brought together to critically examine the current state of research and practice on interrogations and confessions. To this end, the organizers have invited the most prominent scholars who have developed well-recognized programs of research on the topics of interrogative interviewing, false confessions, the detection of deception in forensic interviews, individual differences, and clinical-forensic evaluations.

    Great line up of speakers including three researchers who are very active in false confession research – Saul Kassin, Richard Leo and Gisli Gudjonsson – plus Joseph Buckley, president of Reid Associates, developers of the widely-taught ‘Reid Technique’ for interrogation, which is, some believe, implicated in producing false confessions. Should be interesting!

    Investigative Interviewing Forum in Australia this Tuesday, and other conferences and courses

    Probably a little late for most (sorry), but if you happen to be in Melbourne on Tuesday 10th July, there’s a chance to catch some great speakers, including Becky Milne, Georgina Heydon and David Dixon, at an Investigative Interviewing Forum.

    Later on this year you might be interested in the 36th Annual Conference of The Society for Police & Criminal Psychology, which will be held September 26-29, 2007 in Springfield, MA (USA).

    Forensic linguists will be meeting next week in Seattle at the International Association of Forensic Linguists 8th Biennial Conference on Forensic Linguistics/Language and Law (12-15 July). A little closer to home (well, my home, anyway) the Seventh International Summer School in Forensic Linguistic Analysis will take place at Aston University 17-21 September 2007.

    New issue: Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management 30(1)


    The Jan/Feb 2007 issue of Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management 30(1) is now online. Follow the link to the publisher’s website for abstracts and access to full text articles.

    Contents include:

    • Police detectives’ perceptions of giving evidence in court – Mark R. Kebbell, Caitriona M.E. O’Kelly
    • What makes a good investigative interviewer of children?: A comparison of police officers’ and experts’ perceptions – Rebecca Wright, Martine B. Powell
    • Address matching bias: ignorance is not bliss – Gisela Bichler, Stefanie Balchak
    • Is neighborhood policing related to informal social control? – Brian C. Renauer
    • Policing alcohol-related incidents: a study of time and prevalence – Gavan Palk, Jeremy Davey, James Freeman
    • The structure of informal communication between police agencies – Aki Roberts, John M. Roberts Jr
    • Area policing and public perceptions in a non-urban setting: one size fits one – Authors: John P. Crank, Andrew L. Giacomazzi
    • The threat of mission distortion in police-probation partnerships – David Murphy, John L. Worrall

    Video taped confessions and judicial biases

    confessionResearch from Ohio University (press release, 13 Mar) indicates that a suspect’s videotaped confession is more likely to be considered voluntary if the camera focused on only the suspect, rather than on the detective eliciting the confession, or both suspect and detective equally. The results are particularly important because:

    In more than 25 percent of wrongful convictions exonerated by DNA testing, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pled guilty, according to the Innocence Project. Police interrogation tactics – which include exaggerating the evidence against the suspect or implying the suspect could face an extreme sentence – can prompt a suspect to make a false confession, said Daniel Lassiter, an Ohio University professor of psychology.

    In videotaped confessions, many law enforcement agencies focus the camera on only the suspect. Lassiter’s research shows that this practice creates what he calls a camera-perspective bias that leads trial participants to view the confessions as voluntary, regardless of how interrogators obtained them.

    The study is published in the March issue of the journal Psychological Science, which is not yet online.

    See also:

    Photo credit: Daniel Lassiter.