Confessions and Interrogations

Intelligence Interviewing and Interrogation: A Systematic Survey of the Interrogation Community

Federal Bureau of Investigation, High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG); Subcontract with University of TX, El Paso, PI: Christian Meissner

Co-Researchers: Christopher Kelly and Jeaneé Miller

The practice and perceived effectiveness of interview and interrogation techniques are difficult to untangle; if techniques are perceived to be ineffective, they are likely to be infrequently employed, if at all. In addition, it is important to recognize that the perceived efficacy of any one technique (or combination of techniques) and subsequent use is dependent on several factors. To study perceptions of efficacy and the interactions between interrogator, source, and technique characteristics, approximately 100 to 400 military, law enforcement, intelligence, and national security interviewers and interrogators will be surveyed. With a focus on the self-reported use and effectiveness of interview and interrogation techniques within and across interrogator and agency, the expected outcomes of the work are improved training of current and future interrogators, and ultimately increased effectiveness of field operations. Information gained from a systematic survey of interrogators and intelligence gatherers can address both the short-term and long-term research objectives of the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG). Survey results have the potential to facilitate more effective interagency communication, scientific research, and the educing of accurate intelligence.


Interview and Interrogation Methods and Their Effects on True and False Confessions

The Campbell Collaborative; National Police Improvement Agency (United Kingdom)

Co-Investigators: Christian Meissner (PI), Susan Brandon and Sujeeta Bhatt

We conducted a systematic review of the published and unpublished literatures on the interview and interrogation of suspects. Our focus was to examine the impact of accusatorial versus information-gathering approaches on the elicitation of confessions. Two reviews were conducted; one that focused on experimental, laboratory-based study in which the ground truth was known (i.e., known whether the confession is true or false), and one that focused on quasi-experimental, field studies of actual suspects in which the ground truth was unknown. To be eligible, experimental studies must include 1) at least two distinct interviewing or interrogation styles (e.g., control method and accusatorial) and 2) sufficient data on true and/or false confession outcomes. Field studies must include 1) at least one coded and quantified interviewing/interrogation method; and 2) data on confession outcomes tied to the questioning style. After an exhaustive search, 12 eligible experimental and 5 field studies were located. Results revealed that the information-gathering approach was more diagnostic in that it increased the number of true but not false confessions. Overall, the number of independent samples was small and thus we consider our findings preliminary.


Exploring False Admissions and using the Prisoner’s Dilemma Paradigm

Co-Researcher: Robert Norris Comic: "I'm innocent. I've just never been able to pass up a good plea bargain."

The Prisoner’s Dilemma, one of the most well-known psychological paradigms, is also a recommended and effective police interrogation technique. Several wrongful conviction cases involving false confession cases and snitches have involved co-suspects informing on another. Using the Prisoner’s Dilemma, we examine decisions to confess when suspects and co-suspects were guilty versus innocent, and when the co-suspect was a best friend versus an acquaintance. We found main effects of guilt-innocence and friend condition, as well as interactions between these factors. The present study has implications for false confessions and snitch testimony, two leading causes of wrongful convictions. Understanding the circumstances under which suspects do and do not confess and inform on co-suspects can help prevent these miscarriages of justice.