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.

adapted from

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.


Ethics in Psychology…….a necessary evil?

The answer is absolutely yes. When you think of controversy in Psychology ethics is often the starting point.  But are we in danger of limiting our ability to validly measure behaviour by imposing too strict ethical principles?  All psychology students are well versed in studies of historical importance but also ethically controversial, Milgram, Zimbardo, Bandura, Freud, Rosenhan, Watson and Rayner  to name a few of the more infamous cases.

Animal behavioural experimentation has also all but long been confined to the history books particularly as the Behaviourist principles fell out of favour in the 1960’s (Behaviourists believed that there was only a quantitative difference between humans and animals and thus pigeons, rats, cats, dogs, etc. were all easily accessible test subjects.  Human participants have been the main focus in the past 50 years however ethical concerns has always been and (always will be the necessary evil).  Psychology today understands that validity has to come second to the protection of harm either psychologically or physically of participants.

The British Psychological Society – has identified 4 core Ethical principles that need to be adhered to.

1) Respect for the autonomy, privacy and dignity of individuals and communities.

Psychologists value the dignity and worth of all persons equally, with sensitivity to the dynamics of perceived authority or influence over others and with particular regard to people’s rights including those of privacy and self-determination’

2) Scientific integrity. 

 Research should be designed, reviewed and conducted in a way that ensures its quality, integrity and contribution to the development of knowledge and understanding. Research that is judged within a research community to be poorly designed or conducted wastes resources and devalues the contribution of the The British Psychological Society participants. At worst it can lead to misleading information being promulgated and can have the potential to cause harm.

3)  Social responsibility.

The discipline of psychology, both as a science and a profession, exists within the context of human society. Accordingly, a shared collective duty for the welfare of human and non-human beings, both within the societies in which psychology researchers live and work, and beyond them, must be acknowledged by those conducting the research.

4) Maximising benefit and minimising harm.

Responsibility of the Code of Ethics and Conduct, psychologists should consider all research from the standpoint of the research participants, and any other persons, groups or communities who may be potentially affected by the research, with the aim of avoiding potential risks to psychological well-being, mental health, personal values, the invasion of privacy or dignity.

Here is an extract from The British Psychological Society website discussing how they deal with key issues pertaining to ethics.

Question: If I wanted to do a small piece of research looking at the general public’s perceptions of risk (about drug taking, offending and outdoor activities), how can I do it independently? I would like to do some research but it won’t be anything to do with the university and hypothetically, would involve asking people on the street to volunteer to take part. The aim would be to have people volunteer through the provision of informed consent. Obviously, I would not like to proceed with research unless it has been reviewed by an Ethics Committee. I have the latest code of ethics and conduct but cannot find information about what to do when there is no obvious ethics committee. It is critical to adhere to the guidelines as I am a professional.

Answer: We would strongly recommend that you submit the research proposal for consideration under your university’s institutional ethics procedure.

There are several reasons why we recommend you to do so:

First, as a protection for the participants, so that your research protocol can be properly reviewed and best advice given as to any modifications to cover eventualities/risks not previously anticipated.

Second, as a protection for yourself. The specifics of this case put you at risk of being in a situation where the fact that confidentiality can never be absolute is activated as the research sets out to canvas ideas/options about potentially illegal activities (drug taking, offending behaviour). This leaves you in a tricky dilemma if participants disclose actual engagement in illegal activity; you may have a legal duty to pass that information on, and if so how does this impact then on informed consent aspects related to confidentiality and anonymity of participants’ disclosures? The duty of care might override any confidentiality clause in consent. It is crucial that a risk management strategy is in place and has been reviewed by a competent body such as an institutional ethics committee. Personal liability insurance may or may not be in place (it perhaps should be), but if it is and there is a claim against you for negligence, if there has not been ethical review, the insurers would have a case for refusing to cover a claim.

Third, as a protection for the institution. Even if the study is done independently, the press are more than happy to link lecturers’ personal behaviour with their professional posts and name the institutions. It is not hard to envisage a situation where this proposed study might be reported in such a way as to bring the institution into disrepute.

The Society’s Code of Ethics and Conduct also provides guidance on the general ethical principles that should be borne in mind.

Informed consent

Question: I am planning some research involving volunteer participants. How do I go about obtaining consent and what form should this take?

Answer: Researchers should ensure that every person from whom data is gathered for the purposes of research consents freely to the process on the basis of adequate information. They should be able, during the data gathering phase, to freely withdraw or modify their consent and to ask for the destruction of all or part of the data that they have contributed.

The way in which consent is sought from people to participate in or otherwise contribute data for research should be appropriate to the research topic and design, and to the ultimate outputs and uses of the analyses. It should recognise in particular the wide variety of data types, collection methods, and the range of people’s possible responses and sensitivities. The principle of proportionality should apply, such that the procedures for consent are proportional to the nature of participation and the risks involved.

For example, for data from existing datasets where consent was properly gained in the initial collection and this consent covers the uses of data proposed, no further consent will normally be needed. For anonymised-at-source, non-sensitive data, consent may appropriately be minimal or may be considered to have been given by the act of participation. Nevertheless, the risks involved in some anonymised-at-source research, for example, web-based research on sensitive topics such as sexual behaviours, will require carefully prepared prior information and clear consent processes.

When research involves the collection of identity capturing data on sensitive material, using video or audio recording, or other methodologies where an individual may be identifiable, it is important to consider additional informed consent procedures. These procedures need to be related to both the nature of the data collected and the ultimate use of the data. Separate informed consent agreements for data collection and the dissemination of the study’s results may be required.

A prior assessment of potential risks should inform the preparation of the information to be given to potential participants and the procedures for seeking consent. The assessment should be used to determine the appropriate form of consent and the nature of any risk management required. When in exceptional circumstances harm, unusual discomfort, or other negative consequences for the individual’s future life might occur, the investigator must inform the participants clearly of these additional risks prior to consent. For all research where risks are present, secure liability insurance should be in place to adequately cover the levels of possible harm identified in the risk analysis.

Giving potential participants sufficient information about the research in an understandable form requires careful drafting of the information sheet. It is recommended that at least one pilot test of the draft documents be carried out with a naive person having a literacy level at the lower end of the range expected in the planned research sample.

In exceptional circumstances the aims of the research may be compromised by giving full information prior to data collection. In such cases, it should be made clear that this is the case in the information sheet and the means by which the withheld information will be given at the conclusion of data collection should be specified. The information withheld and the delay in disclosing the withheld information should be kept to an absolute minimum.


Question: Does confidentiality really apply in case of teenage research participants? That is, could I  withhold  information from a  parent the contents of the discussions held between his fourteen year old daughter and myself?

Answer: Our guidelines for conducting research with human participants are currently undergoing full review. However, in the meantime, the Society’s Code of Ethics and Conduct provides guidance on the general ethical principles that should be borne in mind. There are also guidelines on the General Medical Council website that may find the guidance of use to you.

The sections on making decisions and principles of confidentiality are particularly straightforward and helpful.

We would also recommend that your research proposal is submitted for consideration by the University’s Research Ethics Committee.

Question: I am a trainee clinical psychologist and am completing my doctoral thesis this year. As part of the project I plan to recruit a control group of University students. This control group will be asked to complete a number of questionnaires including the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale and a short evaluation of eating disorders. I had initially planned for the questionnaire responses to be confidential but I am concerned that I may receive questionnaires from control participants which score highly for anxiety, depression and eating disorder. I am aware that I need to balance the need for confidentiality with duty of care to the individual. I could indicate on the information sheet that if the person reveals scores that would indicate I have a concern about their well being that I would contact them but this would be at the expense of confidentiality. I wonder if you would be able to offer some advice?

Answer: We would suggest that you use an appropriate coding system for the questionnaires so that the participants are only identifiable by yourself; and that you are clear about this at the outset. The possibility of follow-up for any concerns over wellbeing could also then be linked to this.

adapted from


The BPS Code of Ethics and guidelines (2009)

Here is the latest BPS ethical guidelines fro research (2014)

The rise of the anti-psychiatry movement; Szasz, Laing and Rosenhan- ‘The Normal Are Not Detectably Sane’.

“Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins? Distinctly we see the difference of the colours, but where exactly does the one first blendingly enter into the other? So with sanity and insanity.”

Herman Melville – Author (Billy Budd, Moby Dick)

The 1960’s and 1970’s were a huge time for social and political change.  One such change that was at the very core of the Psychological community was the role of psychiatry.  Psychiatry  attempts to diagnose and treat mental health conditions but at the very heart there is still a raging argument today about what can be considered normal and thus define abnormality in particular the dangers that can arise from the medicalisation of normal experience.  Is psychiatry there to help or has it now or historically had a more sinister agenda, to control people through stigmatisation?

If you talk to God, you are praying;
If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia.

–Thomas S. Szasz, The Second Sin, Anchor/Doubleday, Garden City, NY. 1973, p. 113.

Thomas Szasz is central to what is known as the anti-psychiatry movement which took the view that Psychiatry was a form of dangerous social control. Watch the video below to hear him briefly discussing his views on  psychiatry.

As part of the British Anti-Psychiatry movement R.D. Laing  shared the concerns of Szasz, taking the view from a more existentialist perspective providing case studies of schizophrenia rather than traditional  ‘flawed’  notions such as psychoanalysis or behaviourist perspectives in his famous text ‘The divided self’  in 1960.  Watch the video of Laing below.

David Rosenhan was present and inspired by Laing at one of his lectures.  Could there be experimental evidence to support the view that psychiatrists were unable to distinguish ‘Sane from insane’?  Thus leading to one of the most important studies of all time.  Read the original study by Rosenhan here.

Watch the video below for an overview of the study.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 published by the APA is arguably the most influential text in mental health.  It is used almost exclusively within the USA (most of the rest of the world use the ICD 10 published by the World Health Organisation and the Chinese have the Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders CCMD -3).  Review this document that discusses the history and provides an overview for all classification systems used. 

Did Psychiatry heed the warnings of Rosenhan?  Read and listen to the links from Tea Break Psychology 2


read an overview of the study with a critique/evaluation of Rosenhan’s conclusions. here.

The 1975 film ‘One flew over the cuckoo’s nest‘ dealt with many of the themes that Rosenhan and the anti-psychiatry movement were interested, it was very much a film of its time. Provocative, insightful and very well observed it still stands as one of the best films of the 20th century.

Here is a statement from the APA regarding the DSM 5

What was the process that led to the new manual?

The APA prepared for the revision of DSM for nearly a decade, with an unprecedented process of research evaluation that included a series of white papers and 13 scientific conferences supported by the National Institutes of Health. This preparation brought together almost 400 international scientists and produced a series of monographs and peer-reviewed journal articles.

The DSM-5 Task Force and Work Groups, made up of more than 160 world-renowned clinicians and researchers, reviewed scientific literature and garnered input from a breadth of advisors as the basis for proposing draft criteria.

The APA Board of Trustees, which approved the final criteria for DSM-5 on Dec. 1, appointed a Scientific Review Committee of mental health experts to review and provide guidance on the strength of evidence of proposed changes. The Scientific Review Committee evaluated the strength of the evidence based on a specific template of validators. In addition, a Clinical and Public Health Committee reviewed proposed revisions to address difficulties experienced with the clinical utility, consistency and public health impact of DSM-IV criteria.

Read an article here on the current DSM 5 F.A.Q from the APA

And finally….a more individualised view on the difficulties and dangers of labelling people based upon subjective criteria…





Clever Hans…….horses for courses……


The Clever Hans effect is wonderful example of how important it is for psychological research to be double blind if it is to truly minimise any bias from researcher or participant.  The story goes the horse – Hans was taught Maths everyday for two years was able to tap out  with his hoof the answer to difficult mathematical sums (by reading them first equally as outstanding!).  Hans was paraded around Europe as an example of animal intelligence………..when in fact Hans was only tapping his hoof after noticing small changes in his trainers (Van Ousten) body language before receiving a stick of carrot and therefore receiving an unconsciously transmitted signal from his trainer. In research methodology this is commonly referred to as the observer-expectancy effect.

Watch a dramatisation below of Hans being taught and the realisation he wasn’t the mathematical genius everyone first thought……

Predictive Validity? Mind manipulation in the future……

If you have seen either one or both versions of Total Recall…………or better still read the short story (we can remember it for you wholesale) by science fiction writer Philip K Dick, you will know that part of the storyline (no spoilers) consists of implanting memories to an individual of exotic holiday and other exciting adventures which may be usually financially impossible or highly unlikely as a cheaper alternative.

Total-Recall-2012-vs-1990-vs-1966In the future we may never set foot on a tropical beach when we go one holiday, we could just visit them virtually through downloads we place inside our brain, Dr Kaku says

An article in todays mail-online discusses the science behind such processes and the likelihood of them actually occurring….

The article also discusses the notion of false memories which has been studied directly by Loftus and how easily it is to manipulate the mind into believing something actually happened which did not.

Loftus’ research on being lost in a shopping mall is a highly illuminating yet arguably unethical piece of research that proves the point.  See below for what she did and how she did it….can we trust our memory as being a factual recollection of precise events or a malleable reconstruction of internal and external forces?

Now that’s what I call Psychology Vol 2……

On my old blog I ran a fun game where respondents could add  examples of where certain songs seemed to encompass a particular piece of theory or research… was fun…so I thought I would start it again…..please feel free to add a comment with the title and reference…as my musical references seem to end in 1996!

let’s get some going……

You have to click on the research/theory to find out what song has been chosen….did you get it right?

The 3 faces of Eve – Thigpen and Cleckley

Freud’s concept of the Id

Freud’s concept of the ego

Freud’s Concept of the Superego

Milgram’s study on obedience

Zimbardo’s Prison study

Rational Non-Adherence to medical advice