Forensic Psychology; The Cognitive Interviewing of witnesses

IMG_3167The Cognitive interview is derived from a range of sources of cognitive evidence relating mainly in the psychology of memory.  It was formulated by combining a number of techniques to assist in allowing an interviewer, such as a police officer, to provide conditions that would allow for the greatest level of accuracy possible, in essence a systematic set of tools to allow access to someone’s memory without inadvertently altering it or not gaining the full insight due to poor phrasing. The Cognitive Interview (CI) is primarily used for witnesses and victims as it needs to assume a willing party. Suspects cannot be relied upon to tell the truth for obvious reasons, hence alternative approaches have been created for their interviewing, such as the controversial  Reid Technique.  The Cognitive Interview can also be used with children as witnesses, which is a significant advancement in police methods as to the historical ‘credibility deflation’ of child interview that were considered to be unreliable as to a lack of confidence or a change in responses due to demand characteristics (Samuel and Bryant).  Fisher and Geiselman conducted research investigating the effectiveness of the Cognitive Interview.


How does it work?

A great video reviewing the Cognitive Interview as a technique with reference to a range of research;


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.