Good Cop-Bad Cop? the Psychology of False Confession and interrogation.

The case for the Good Cop

…the false belief and false memories in cases of coerced-internalised false confession are most commonly developed as a result of manipulative interrogation techniques.              (Gudjonsson, 1997, p. 298)

Gísli Guðjónsson C.B.E and currently honorary consultant Clinical and Forensicch4_700x500gisli_now-lr_1 psychologist at Broadmoor Hospital has made arguably some of the biggest contributions to Psychology.  Guðjónsson has had a hand in some of the most significant interventions Psychology has made in the U.K particularly as his role as an expert witness in false confession.  The most notable within the context of the infamous  Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four miscarriages of justice as well as the assessment of Colin Stagg whilst on remand for the Rachel Nickell murder.  However one of Guðjónsson’s biggest applied contributions in that of his research into a reliable method of measuring the yield and shift elements that contribute to different types of false confession.  This is called the Gudjonsson Suggestibility Scale which is only available to Chartered Clinical and Forensic Psychologists.

Types of False Confession

1. Voluntary False Confession -Examples of reasons are to pre-empt further investigation of a more serious offence (Shepherd, 1996), or to protect a significant other,to gain notoriety or even a pathological need to become infamous and to enhance one’s self-esteem (Huff, Rattner, & Sagarin, 1986);

Listen to an excerpt of the infamous taunting confession of ‘Wearside Jack’ who sidelined the Police in the 1970’s from the hunt of Peter Sutcliffe AKA The Yorkshire Ripper.  Sutcliffe murdered three women whilst the police were searching the North East area for ‘Jack’ rather than the West Yorkshire area.

2.  Coerced-compliant false confessions. -Those who want to please their interrogator or think they will be released at a later date due to being found not guilty,   These individuals know they are not guilty. Read about the case of ‘FC’.

3. Coerced-internalised false confessionThe suspect accepts the version presented to them and internalises the ‘facts’.  This is a dangerous scenario as false memories can be created which are very difficult if even possible to differentiate from real memories and thus only new evidence can counter these.  Why would anybody looking if someone has confessed?  This is where yielding to pressure and shifting the story becomes prominent. Gudjonsson-False_Confessions can be very influential here too.

For a guided tour on the Psychology of Forensic False Confessions with analysis by Guðjónsson himself read and watch the clips in this fascinating BBC News Special on the case of the Reykjavik confessions.


Read an insightful interview from the 2013 edition of the Psychologist by The British Psychological Society that delves into  Guðjónsson’s lifetime of contributions to Psychology.  There is a particular interesting section on the influence of the Reid technique. You can listen to the interview here.

The Case for Bad Cop

John E. Reid and Associates developed one of the most effective methods of eliciting a confess170402629ion from a guilty suspect.  ‘The Reid Technique’.  The technique has been used extensively in North America and has contributed to the convictions of countless suspects.  The technique uses a range of methods to guide the suspect into a psychological state where they are given a choice of versions of events (both of which requires admission of guilt).

There are three many phases of the process.

1. Factual analysisThis represents the collection and analysis of information relative to a crime scene, the victim and possible subjects.

2. Behaviour Analysis Interview –a non-accusatory question and answer session intended to elicit information from the subject in a controlled environment.  The clinical nature of the interview, including the asking of specific behaviour provoking questions, is designed to provide the investigator with verbal, paralinguistic and nonverbal behavior symptoms which either support probable truthfulness or deception

3.  Accusatory interrogation –elicit the truth from someone whom the investigator believes has lied during an interview.

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The interrogation of a suspect who has lied is the basis of the formation of  Inbau and Reid’s 9 steps.

Step 1 – Direct Confrontation. Lead the suspect to understand that the evidence has led the police to the individual as a suspect. Offer the person an early opportunity to explain why the offence took place.
Step 2 – Try to shift the blame away from the suspect to some other person or set of circumstances that prompted the suspect to commit the crime. That is, develop themes containing reasons that will justify or excuse the crime. Themes may be developed or changed to find one to which the accused is most responsive.
Step 3 – Never allow the suspect to deny guilt.  If you’ve let him talk and say the words ‘I didn’t do it’, and the more often a person says ‘I didn’t do it’, the more difficult it is to get a confession.”
Step 4 – Ignore excuses. At this point, the accused will often give a reason why he or she did not or could not commit the crime. Try to use this to move towards the confession.
Step 5 – Reinforce sincerity to ensure that the suspect is receptive.
Step 6 – If suspect cries, infer guilt. The suspect will become quieter and listen. Move the theme discussion towards offering alternatives. If the suspect cries at this point, infer guilt.
Step 7 – Pose the “alternative question”, giving two choices for what happened; one more socially acceptable than the other. The suspect is expected to choose the easier option but whichever alternative the suspect chooses, guilt is admitted.
Step 8 – Admit guilt. Lead the suspect to repeat the admission of guilt in front of witnesses.
Step 9 -Confession. Document the suspect’s admission and have him or her sign as a confession.
The Reid technique isn’t without it’s criticism due to the danger of applying such intense psychological pressure onto an individual, especially one that scores highly on the Gudjonsson Suggestibility Scale, especially as vulnerability to suggestibility isn’t an overt trait that could easily be recognised.
The P.E.A.C.E method is an alternative to the Reid technique;
 Further watching

An insightful documentary into the relationship between interrogation and confession.


The truth about lies and deception…….honest.

I have read the terms and conditions. Surely the single greatest lie ever told, certainly in terms of the volume of us who have ticked that box knowing that really we haven’t.  However, deception breeds deception and with now defunct computer game shop Gamestation taking advantage of the aforementioned ‘fib’ by fiendishly incorporating into the smallprint of their online terms and conditions- that they owned the very soul of anyone whom blindly ticked the box -‘the immortal soul clause’ as it was called.  Over 7.500 people were caught out on April 1st 2010- they were refunded their soul in an email.


However lying, deception, untruthful, false, dishonest, mendacious, perfidious, duplicitous, dissimulating, dissembling and double Janus-facedness is a normal human behaviour, not just human, animals deceive too. Koko the Gorilla had been taught sign language and ruthlessly blamed the ripping out of a sink from a wall on her pet kitten (Koko signed on the return of her keepers…..”The cat did it!”).  If we are to take an evolutionary view it is a survival mechanism, a simple smile to someone you despise or you feel threatened by is a useful tactic to hide any weaknesses that may be exploited by them and hide, deceive them of your true feelings. However false smiles can be detected if you know where to look – the muscles that generate a warm and honest smile are different to those that are created  when creating a false smile. It’s all in the eyes…you see.

Those lying eyes

real-eyesThe eyes truly are the window to the soul. However don’t be fooled by so called Neuro Linguistic Programming techniques  (a good example of pseudoscience) that if someone is looking up when telling you something then they are lying there is little evidence to support this but is something that your hear still being pedled around every now and then.

And there lies the crux of the matter…are there any reliable physical cues to deceptiouniversal-facial-expressionsn?  Maybe a more fundamental question is are there any universal responses of facial expression or body language? (The eyebrow flash for recognition of someone  is thought to be pretty universal as an involuntary response.)   Certainly classic research by Ekman into facial expression has suggested that there are a handful of truly universal expressions. However deceivingly there is a long tradition of supposed cues to deception or ‘tells’ as gamblers would say little unconscious signs of anxiety, uncertainty due to knowingly attempting to convince someone of something you know not to be true. Going red, not being able to look someone in the eye, looking at someone for too long in the eye, rubbing the back of the neck, rubbing the ear lobes, scratching the nose, excessive blinking (note that psychopaths reportedly blink less and maybe that is why they are better at deceiving people) are all ways many think they can spot a liar – but where does the truth lie?

Bad Lie detectors

Many of these are signs of anxiety not necessarily deception, blinkinghowever Polygraphs (aka lie detectors)  have been used for many years in criminal investigations in the United States (and on the Jeremy Kyle show) and provided as evidence, however it measures variations in physiological arousal (not lying) and therefore fundamentally flawed, the American Psychological Association concluded:

The development of currently used “lie detection” technologies has been based on ideas about physiological functioning but has, for the most part, been independent of systematic psychological research. Early theorists believed that deception required effort and, thus, could be assessed by monitoring physiological changes. But such propositions have not been proven and basic research remains limited on the nature of deceptiveness. Efforts to develop actual tests have always outpaced theory-based basic research. Without a better theoretical understanding of the mechanisms by which deception functions, however, development of a lie detection technology seems highly problematic.

For now, although the idea of a lie detector may be comforting, the most practical advice is to remain skeptical about any conclusion wrung from a polygraph.                                          Cited;

F.B.I training focusses upon a range of techniques for detection .

Good lie detectors

Where humans on average can detect lies at marginally above chance level – 54% but surely professionals such as Police officers are better?  When Samantha Mann conducted research into a new area of lie detection and found some interesting results, there seemed to be a greater emphasis on story cues rather than the historic notion  body language cues of the more experienced and stronger lie detectors used in the research.  Detecting true lies; Police officers abilities to detect true lies.  Mann and Vrij’s research supports the view that often the focus on lie detection is in behavioural cues rather than the more accurate experienced police officers who also rely on story cues as a method of detection.

There have been a number of publications integrating a range of approaches to lie  detection.

Here is an overview of  an alternative piece of research conducted by Mann and Vrij investigating high stake liars.

Professor David Canter and colleague  may be  about to turn the whole area on its head with current research taking place at the Centre for Investigative Psychology on revisiting the use of polygraph techniques in the UK. 

The BBC recently compiled a practical overview of lie detection – View it here. 

The fun of deception

However, the detection of lies can be fun…………… a light entertainment kind of way.  The story cues on the clip below may seem so far fetched that it must be a lie…it must be………..mustn’t it?