Interview and Interrogation Effects on Confession Research Paper

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The interviewing and interrogation of suspects is important to securing convictions against the guilty and freeing the wrongly accused. There are two general methods of questioning suspects: information gathering and accusatorial. The information-gathering approach, used in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, and elsewhere, is characterized by rapport building, truth seeking, and listening. The accusatorial approach, used primarily in the United States and Canada, is characterized by accusation, confrontation, psychological manipulation, and the disallowing of denials. Academics and practitioners hotly debate which method is more effective, particularly in light of increased awareness of the problems with false confessions. Two separate but related meta-analyses were conducted to address this question. The first relied upon data from five observational field studies and the second from 12 experimental, laboratory-based studies. The primary outcome measures were true and false confessions. Results revealed that both information-gathering and accusatory methods were associated with the production of confessions in field studies, though the experimental data indicated that the information-gathering method was more diagnostic in that it increased the likelihood of true confessions while reducing the likelihood of false confessions. Although continued research is needed to better understand the methods that produce true and false confessions, the results of these meta-analyses suggest that the information-gathering approach may be more effective in comparison to the accusatorial approach.


The elicitation of false confessions is an international problem that has been documented in almost every continent (Kassin et al. 2010; Lassiter and Meissner 2010). Two general factors have been linked to the incidence of false confessions: personal (psychological) vulnerabilities of the individual and the use of accusatorial (psychologically based) interrogative methods. Accusatorial methods are common practice in the United States, Canada, and many Asian nations, and the use of these methods has been linked to false confessions (Kassin et al. 2010; Lassiter and Meissner 2010). In response to the increased awareness of the prevalence of false confession, the United Kingdom, Norway, New Zealand, Australia, and several other countries have amended their interrogation practices to employ information-gathering methods of interrogation (Bull and Soukara 2010). This research paper summarizes the research evidence on the relative diagnosticity of the accusatorial interrogation and information-gathering interview approaches. Diagnosticity is the ratio of true to false confessions, with an effective interview/interrogation method maximizing true confessions while minimizing false confessions.

This research paper is based on the systematic review conducted for and published by the Campbell Collaboration (http://www. (Meissner et al. 2011). As will be shown below, the existing research evidence suggests that although both accusatorial and information-gathering approaches increase the likelihood of obtaining a confession in the field context, experimental laboratory studies demonstrated that the information-gathering approach yielded more diagnostic confessions (by increasing true confessions and reducing false confessions) when compared with the accusatorial method.

Key Issues And Controversies

Generally speaking, two distinct methods of suspect interview and interrogation approaches have emerged: information gathering and accusatorial. The information-gathering approach to interviewing and interrogation is based on establishing rapport between the interviewer and suspect and seeks to elicit information rather than obtain confessions. The interviewer uses positive confrontation and an open-ended questioning approach to elicit information from the suspect; psychological manipulation is anathema to the goals of the interview. This approach is exemplified and codified in Great Britain’s adoption of the Police and Criminal Evidence (PACE) Act of 1984 and later modified as the PEACE model in 1993. The PACE Act explicitly prohibited the use of psychologically manipulative techniques and required the recording of all custodial interrogations. Furthermore, the PEACE model focuses on developing rapport, explaining the allegation and the seriousness of the offense, emphasizing the importance of honesty and truth gathering, and requesting the suspect’s version of events. Suspects are permitted to explain the situation without interruption, and questioners are encouraged to actively listen. Finally, the information-gathering approach relies on cognitive-based strategies to detect deception.

In contrast, the accusatorial method is typified by the United States model and is best illustrated by the “Reid Technique” (Inbau et al. 2001). In this method, the interviewer establishes control over and confronts the suspect, presumes guilt, and ultimately aims to obtain a confession. As distinct from the information-gathering approach, accusatorial methods use closed-ended and confirmatory questions and employ psychological manipulation which generally involve three components: (a) custody and isolation, in which the suspect is detained in a small room and left to experience the anxiety, insecurity, and uncertainty associated with police interrogation; (b) confrontation, in which the suspect is presumed guilty and told (sometimes falsely) about the evidence against him/her, is warned of the consequences associated with his/her guilt, and is prevented from denying his/her involvement in the crime; and finally (c) minimization, in which a now sympathetic interrogator attempts to gain the suspect’s trust, offers the suspect face-saving excuses or justifications for the crime, and implies more lenient consequences should the suspect provide a confession. Lastly, this approach relies on anxiety-based cues (e.g., verbal, nonverbal, and paralinguistic) in order to detect when suspects are being deceptive. Table 1 summarizes the differences between the information-gathering and accusatorial approaches along four dimensions.

Interview and Interrogation Effects on Confession Research Paper

Meta-Analysis Methods

Researchers have relied on two primary methods of examining the influence of questioning technique on confessions: field studies of actual interrogations and experimental laboratory studies with mock crimes and transgressions. Whereas the field studies offer greater external validity, it is not possible to determine the “ground truth” or the veracity of confessions obtained in this context. In contrast, experimental studies allow for the manipulation of guilt and innocence but are limited in their ability to precisely model the context of a criminal interrogation. As such, two systematic reviews and meta-analyses of the accusatorial and information-gathering literature were conducted, one examining field studies and the other examining experimental studies.

The first meta-analysis focused on observational field studies; the second, on experimental laboratory-based studies. Although briefly summarized here, readers interested in more details regarding the methods are referred to Meissner et al. (2011). To identify studies that might be included in the analyses, more than a dozen reference databases were searched (using over 20 search terms), the reference sections of several comprehensive sources on interviewing and interrogation (books, articles, and reports) were reviewed, and researchers in the United States and overseas were contacted for any unpublished research. To be eligible for inclusion in the meta-analyses, field and laboratory studies must have met the following criteria:

  • Intervention: Eligible field studies must have coded or quantified the use of at least one interview or interrogation technique, which was then categorized into information-gathering, accusatorial, or general interrogation approaches. Eligible laboratory studies must have involved the experimental manipulation of information-gathering and/or accusatorial methods with one another or with a control interview method (e.g., a simple request for compliance).
  • Outcomes: Eligible field studies must have reported the analysis of confessions and have had sufficient quantitative data to calculate effect sizes, specifically including the relationship between the use of certain interview/interrogation methods and elicitation of a confession. Laboratory studies must have reported the number of true and/or false confessions from “guilty” or “innocent” participants, respectively, in a manner that would permit calculation of an effect size.
  • Population/samples: The population of interest for both the field and experimental studies was criminal (mock) suspects of any age, nationality, or status who were accused of committing a criminal act, a transgression, or withholding important information.

The initial search identified over 2,000 studies, though the vast majority was screened out. After this preliminary screening, 33 field studies and 22 laboratory studies were coded to determine final eligibility, of which five field studies and 12 laboratory studies were ultimately included in the meta-analyses. All included and excluded field and experimental studies (as well as the reasons for exclusion) can be found in Meissner et al. (2011).

Results Of The Meta-Analyses

Field Studies

The five field studies were identified through the systematic search, three of which were conducted in the United Kingdom, one in Canada, and one in the United States. These five studies represented data from 608 interrogation sessions. Of these sessions, 39.4 % were coded from audio recordings, 36 % from video recordings, 20 % were live interrogation sessions, and the remaining 4.4 % were from transcriptions of the sessions. The alleged crimes for which the suspects were being interrogated varied from social security benefit fraud to serious violent crime such as murder and robbery. Between 39 % and 64 % of the suspects in the interrogation sessions confessed or offered some admission of guilt. The studies classified the interrogations as accusatory, information-gathering, or combined interrogative method, resulting in eight possible pair-wise comparisons across the five study samples.

The effect size was Hedges’ g based on dichotomous outcomes (i.e., confess vs. not confess) using the Cox computation method (see Lipsey and Wilson 2001; Sa´nchez-Meca et al. 2003). The relationship between the use of certain interrogative methods (accusatorial, information-gathering, or general interrogative methods) and elicitation of a confession was the focus of the analysis. All analyses were based on a random-effects model, and the results are presented in Table 2.

Interview and Interrogation Effects on Confession Research Paper

Three field studies assessed the relationship between use of accusatorial methods and elicitation of a confession in a real-world context and showed that such a method was associated with a large and significant increase in confession rates. Furthermore, there was no significant degree of variability across the studies suggesting consistency in findings across studies.

The relationship between information-gathering methods and elicitation of a confession was assessed through two field studies. These studies also found that the use of such a method was associated with a large and significant increase in confession rates. The results varied meaningfully between these two studies, however, with a substantially smaller effect in one study (.38 vs. 1.04).

A number of tactics observed in these studies could reasonably be coded as a part of accusatorial and information-gathering approaches. Three field studies examined the influence of these combined methods in eliciting confessions in a real-world context as opposed to those methods that might be exclusively linked to either accusatorial or information-gathering approaches, and showed no significant relationship between the use of these general methods and confession statements provided by suspects. However, these results were highly variable across studies, ranging from a low of .40 to a high of .79.

Based on these field studies, it appears that the use of accusatorial and information-gathering methods of interrogation was significantly associated with the elicitation of confession evidence in a real-world context in contrast to those characterized as not accusatorial or information gathering, or even those techniques characterized as both accusatorial and information gathering. Although these results suggest that such methods are effective tools for elicitation of confession evidence, it is important to note that these findings fail to distinguish the diagnostic value of the interrogative evidence – field studies offer little or no information to distinguish between innocent and guilty suspects, and ground truth in such contexts is nearly impossible to determine. As such, researchers have assessed the diagnostic value of interrogative methods by modeling the interrogative process in an experimental, laboratory context.

Experimental Studies

Twelve experimental studies were identified through the systematic search, and these studies provided 30 contrasts between the different interrogation methods. All but one of the studies was conducted in the United States. Nine were published in peer-reviewed journals and three are currently unpublished.

Eleven of the 12 studies used variations of the Kassin and Kiechel (1996) or the Russano et al. (2005) paradigm. The Kassin and Kiechel paradigm is one in which all participants are “innocent” of the mock crime of crashing the computer. The Russano et al. paradigm includes participants randomly assigned to an innocent or guilty condition of a known, intentional act (i.e., cheating in an academic context). Eleven of the studies used undergraduate students as participants, with two studies including participants from other age groups. The results are presented in Table 3.

Interview and Interrogation Effects on Confession Research Paper

Accusatorial versus Control. The contrast between an accusatorial interrogative method and a control interview condition demonstrated that accusatorial methods yielded a moderate and significant increase in the frequency of true confessions and large and significant increase in false confessions. Typically, the control technique was the absence of a specific technique; for example, if the experimental manipulation was the presentation of false evidence, the control condition did not present false evidence. The findings for false confessions were highly variably across studies.

Information Gathering versus Control. Two studies examined the influence of information-gathering interrogative methods versus a control condition in eliciting true confessions and false confessions. These studies demonstrated that information-gathering methods yielded a greater frequency of true confessions, but did not significantly influence the likelihood of eliciting false confessions.

Accusatorial versus Information Gathering. Three studies assessed the direct contrast between accusatorial and information-gathering interrogative methods in eliciting true confessions and false confessions. The results demonstrated that information-gathering methods produced a significantly greater frequency of true confessions, while significantly reducing the frequency of false confessions, when compared with accusatorial methods. Neither analysis produced significant variability, suggesting consistency in findings across studies (Qs < 4.43, ns).

This meta-analysis of the eligible experimental literature demonstrated several key findings that may have implications for policy and practice. First, while accusatorial methods significantly increased the likelihood of obtaining a true confession (when compared with a no-tactic control condition), these methods also significantly increased the likelihood of obtaining a false confession – a finding consistent with many cases of wrongful conviction in the United States (see Kassin et al. 2010; Lassiter and Meissner 2010). In contrast to this, information-gathering approaches significantly increased true confession rates, but showed no significant increase in the rate of false confessions when compared with a no-tactic control condition. In fact, information-gathering approaches appeared to show a numerical decrease in the rate of false confessions obtained. When compared directly against accusatorial methods, information-gathering approaches showed superior diagnosticity by significantly increasing the elicitation of true confessions and significantly reducing the incidence of false confessions.

Future Directions

A number of variables were considered for inclusion in a moderator analysis of the influence of accusatorial methods in eliciting false confessions. Unfortunately, studies varied little in several key factors. For example, only two of the 14 independent samples involved children or adolescents, while the remainder involved college students. In addition, none of the studies manipulated race or ethnicity in participant recruitment or analyses of the data. Similarly, only one study was conducted outside of the United States.

It is important here to note that field studies fail to offer us important information regarding the relative diagnostic value of the confession that is elicited. That is, such studies lack “ground truth” that would enable us to factually determine the veracity of the statement provided by a suspect and thereby preclude the ability to assess the diagnostic value of the information elicited and the effectiveness of such techniques when employed in the field. One method often used to assess veracity in field studies has been to evaluate the “strength” of available evidence against the defendant; however, none of the studies took this approach to evaluating the likely credibility of the confession evidence obtained as a moderator of interrogative efficacy.

Additionally, each of the studies included in the field study meta-analysis examined the bivariate relationship between certain interrogative methods and elicitation of a confession. As indicated in the review, a number of control variables could reasonably be included in such analyses (e.g., factors related to interrogator experience, crime type, interrogator/suspect ethnic backgrounds, geographic characteristics), and more complex modeling approaches (such as multilevel modeling or path analysis) could have been pursued, albeit many (if not all) of these studies may not have had a large enough sample size to consider multiple factors simultaneously. Researchers are strongly encouraged to initiate more systematic, multilevel analyses of the influence of interrogative methods. Further, there is a great need for the use of quasi-experimental methods in the field context as the effects of certain interrogative methods are currently unknown. Quasi-experimental methods could include the examination of the influence of certain factors in real-world interviews and interrogations, such as the use of the cognitive interview, whether suspects are told they are being recorded, and many of the variables under consideration here. Such quasi-experimental methods are effective tools for assessing the policy implications of alternative approaches to police interviewing and interrogation and should be considered in the years ahead.


The meta-analyses summarized above suggest that the information-gathering approach introduced by Great Britain can be effective in eliciting confession evidence but also has the advantage of eliciting more diagnostic information. In the experimental meta-analysis, when the information-gathering and accusatorial approaches were contrasted, the information-gathering approach clearly produced more advantageous outcomes (although caution is warranted given the small number of eligible studies). Specifically, the information-gathering approach produced significantly more true confessions, whereas the accusatorial approach produced significantly more false confessions. As such, the results suggest that law enforcement, military, and intelligence agencies should consider the use of information-gathering approaches to interrogation. In addition, research should be conducted to further refine and solidify the understanding of the effects of various interrogative methods in eliciting true and false confession evidence, therein providing a stronger foundation for evidence-based practice and policy recommendations.


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