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INTERVIEWING & INTERROGATIONS 1
Interviewing and Interrogations: From the Third Degree to Science-Based Approaches
Amelia Mindthoff and Christian A. Meissner
Department of Psychology, Iowa State University
This chapter has been accepted for publication in the forthcoming book, Routledge Handbook of
Evidence-Based Criminal Justice Practices, edited by Bryanna Fox & Edelyn Verona.
Amelia Mindthoff https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6628-5091
Christian A. Meissner https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6094-5167
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to either Amelia Mindthoff
(firstname.lastname@example.org) or Christian A. Meissner (email@example.com). Address: Department of
Psychology, 1347 Lagomarcino Hall, 901 Stange Rd., Ames, IA 50011
INTERVIEWING & INTERROGATIONS 2
Interviewing and interrogation practices have evolved over the past century. “Third degree”
methods of physical and psychological coercion were replaced by psychologically-manipulative
tactics that seek a confession; however, it was not until instances of false confession that led to
wrongful conviction came to light that investigative interviewing begin to transition from
accusatorial methods to science-based approaches. In this chapter, we review the coercive
interrogation methods of the past and their influence on false confessions. We then explore
science-based interviewing, discussing the benefits of productive questioning tactics, memory-
based tactics, rapport-based approaches, strategic presentation of evidence, and strategic
questioning to assess credibility. To conclude, we discuss the need for collaborations between
practitioners and researchers as the field shifts to a comprehensive science-based interviewing
Keywords: investigative interviewing, interrogation, false confession, information-
INTERVIEWING & INTERROGATIONS 3
Interviewing and Interrogations: From the Third Degree to Science-Based Approaches
Eliciting information from resistant individuals has long represented a challenge for
interrogation professionals; however, the manner in which individuals are interviewed has
transformed substantially over the past century. In this chapter, we provide a selective review of
the evolution of interrogation practices, from coercive methods of the past that are prone to
producing false confessions to rapport-based methods of the present and future. While we focus
primarily on the adversarial interview context, readers interested in witness/victim interviewing
(Hope & Gabbert, 2019) and the interviewing of children (Lamb et al., 2018; Nicol et al., 2017)
are referred to other excellent reviews.
Interrogations of the Past
Through the first half of the 20th century, it was customary for American police
departments to practice the “third degree”—interrogation methods that involved physical and
psychological coercion aimed at extracting confessions (Leo, 1992). Such methods included
physical violence (e.g., whippings, punching) and torture (e.g., drilling into teeth), as well as
coercive methods that were easily deniable given their lack of evidence (e.g., rubber hose
beatings, being hung out of windows, being slapped if failing to stand up straight for hours).
Although the use of such tactics had drastically decreased by the 1960s, they were ultimately
replaced by techniques that apply psychological pressure, manipulation, and deception (Kassin et
al., 2010). Such accusatorial tactics have also been widely used in other countries, including
Canada (Snook et al., 2010) and the U.K. (Bull & Rachlew, 2020).
Central to modern accusatorial methods are the tenets of guilt presumption and
confession elicitation (Kassin & Gudjonsson, 2004). As such, accusatorial interrogations are
characterized by: (a) an interrogator-suspect dynamic in which the interrogator maintains
INTERVIEWING & INTERROGATIONS 4
control; (b) questioning approaches that focus on confirmation of guilt (in lieu of elicitation of
information); (c) the presentation of interrogation “themes” that persuade suspects that it is in
their best interest to confess; (d) the isolation of suspects meant to induce stress and a want to
escape the interrogation context (via confession); and (e) a reliance on anxiety-based nonverbal
cues to deception (Meissner et al., 2015). In this context, interrogators rely on methods including
(but not limited to): maximization (harsh confrontations of guilt and exaggeration of
consequences); minimization (providing face-saving excuses and downplaying the
consequences); and false evidence ploys (presenting fabricated incriminating evidence; see
Kassin et al., 2010, for a comprehensive discussion of additional accusatorial methods). The use
of such methods is inherently problematic, as accusatorial methods not only increase the rate of
true confessions from the guilty, but also increase the rate of false confessions from the innocent
(Meissner et al., 2014).
The Problem of False Confessions
False admissions or confessions represent a leading cause of wrongful convictions in the
United States. They are typically classified into one of three categories. Voluntary false
confessions are those that arise without any prompting from law enforcement and are often seen
in high-profile cases (e.g., the Black Dahlia case; Conti, 1999). Compliant false confessions are
typically the product of accusatorial interrogation methods and represent the most typical form of
false confessions. In such cases, individuals ultimately confess for positive rewards (e.g.,
escaping the interrogation context; in exchange for a promise of leniency), but internally
maintain their innocence. Lastly, internalized false confessions are made by innocent, yet
suggestible, individuals who are led to generate incriminating false memories that they come to
INTERVIEWING & INTERROGATIONS 5
believe, thereby lending credence to their false confession (see Gudjonsson, 2003; Kassin &
Gudjonsson, 2004; for more on false confessions).
Factors Leading to False Confessions
Research indicates that several factors (both internal and external) can increase the
likelihood to of a false confession. Dispositional risk factors, such as intellectual/cognitive
ability and youth, are often present in known cases of false confessions (Drizin & Leo, 2004) and
have been experimentally demonstrated to increase false confession rates (see Kassin &
Gudjonsson, 2004, for more on dispositional risk factors). It is likely that interrogative
suggestibility mediates the effect of such characteristics on false confession rates (Otgaar et al.,
2021). The detrimental impact of such vulnerabilities is often intensified by situational risk
factors—factors that are imposed on the interrogation environment by an investigator. For
example, the use of certain accusatorial tactics and prolonged detention / interrogation can
significantly increase the likelihood of a false confession.
Accusatorial interrogations represent an inherently confirmatory process. Interviewers
implementing this approach typically employ tactics designed to confirm a suspect’s guilt. It is
thus not surprising that such an approach fosters confirmation bias (i.e., actively seeking and
using information that is in line with one’s hypotheses/beliefs at the expense of ignoring
conflicting information; Meissner & Kassin, 2004), which in turn exacerbates the use of
accusatorial tactics aimed at confirming guilt, leading to an increased risk of false confession
(Narchet et al., 2011). Furthermore, the confession-driven and confirmatory nature of
accusatorial approaches often curtail the elicitation of additional information from suspects.
Innocence itself has also been shown to be a risk factor, as innocent suspects may waive
their Miranda rights and agree to be questioned, believing that their innocence will be apparent
INTERVIEWING & INTERROGATIONS 6
(e.g., “didn’t have anything to hide;” Kassin & Norwick, 2004). Such a belief may be naïve,
particularly if investigators apply coercive, accusatorial methods. In such a context, an innocent
suspect’s persistent denials can increase the extent to which investigators utilize coercive tactics
and increase the risk of false confession (see Kassin, 2005; Scherr et al., 2020).
Moving Towards Science-Based Interviewing
Interrogation practices and policies have experienced a paradigm shift as cases of
wrongful convictions of false confessors began to emerge. Notably, a series of wrongful
convictions in the U.K. (e.g., Guilford Four, Birmingham Six) gave rise to a series of reforms
leading to the adoption of the PEACE model in 1992. The PEACE model, which is widely
practiced in the U.K., Wales, and several other countries, incorporates evidence-based
interviewing techniques that include rapport-based approaches, productive questioning, and
gradual presentation of evidence in combination with challenges to statement-evidence
inconsistencies. Notably, the goal of the PEACE approach to interviewing is in stark contrast to
that of traditional accusatorial methods: rather than being confession-driven, PEACE methods
are aimed at eliciting information (see Bull & Rachlew, 2020).
Since the introduction of PEACE, considerable research has led to the development and
refinement of science-based interviewing in the U.S. (Meissner et al., 2017). Based on such
work, scholars have proposed a framework that is built upon rapport-based, information-
gathering techniques (Meissner et al., 2021). This framework has led to a shift from
“interrogation” (a construct that induces a sense of guilt-presumption, a drive for confession, and
is typically tied to the adversarial questioning of suspects) to “investigative interviewing”
(questioning with the goal of eliciting accurate and detailed narratives, ultimately contributing to
a broader investigative decision, and that can be used in various contexts including witnesses,
INTERVIEWING & INTERROGATIONS 7
victims, suspects, and sources). Central to this science-based approach are productive
questioning tactics, memory-based tactics, rapport-based approaches, strategic presentation of
evidence, and strategic questioning to assess credibility.
Productive Questioning Tactics
The traditional accusatorial approach to questioning is characterized by closed-ended and
leading questions (Snook et al., 2012), which can restrict the amount of information elicited from
an interviewee and lead to memory errors (see Pickrell et al., 2016). In lieu of such unproductive
questioning methods, scholars recommend that practitioners pose open-ended questions that
facilitate recall and maintain the integrity of the interviewee’s memory. Practitioners should
consider implementing a funnel approach to questioning, by which they follow open-ended
questions with probing questions and appropriate closed-ended questions that are based on
previous statements made by the interviewee (Powell et al., 2005). Overall, these productive
questioning strategies have been shown to increase the amount of information elicited from
interviewees (Nunan et al., 2020).
Memory-Based Questioning Tactics
Eliciting information from interviewees can be impeded not only by their willingness to
disclose, but also by their inability to retrieve the information from memory (Shepherd, 1993). In
such instances, memory-based questioning tactics that were developed based on principles from
cognitive psychology can help facilitate retrieval. Examples of memory-based tactics include
instructing interviewees to: close their eyes in order to facilitate mental-reinstatement of the
context in which the memory being recalled was encoded; recall the event multiple times; recall
the event in various temporal orders (e.g., reverse-order, from end to beginning); recall the event
from a different perspective (e.g., from the perspective of a bystander); or recall sensory details
INTERVIEWING & INTERROGATIONS 8
in a manner that aligns with encoding (e.g., when asking about spatial details, having
interviewees sketch what they remember). Such tactics are central to the Cognitive Interview
(Fisher & Geiselman, 1992)—an evidence-based interview protocol that has been implemented
in a variety of contexts (e.g., children and adult witnesses, suspects, sources). Attesting to the
benefits of implementing memory-based tactics, the Cognitive Interview reliably increases the
amount of correct information elicited from interviewees, without reducing the accuracy of the
information provided (Memon et al., 2010).
Rapport-based approaches to interviewing have been strongly endorsed as a necessary
element to interviewing protocols (e.g., Army Field Manual; PEACE model; Cognitive
Interview). Yet, the literature has lacked a cohesive, comprehensive understanding of the rapport
construct and the effectiveness of interviewing tactics meant to facilitate rapport. Recent
systematic reviews of the rapport literature have begun to shed light on these issues.
Rapport is often described as “the quality of the interviewer-interviewee interpersonal
interaction (Neequaye & Mac Giolla, 2021; pp. 8),” with a focus on at least one of the following
attributes: positivity, mutuality, successful outcomes, respect, trust, or communication (see also
Duke et al., 2018;). Achieving rapport is often deemed beneficial, as rapport is believed to
increase the amount of information an interviewee discloses. Research suggests that the
effectiveness of rapport-approaches is a product of an interviewee’s perceptions of rapport, as
increased perceptions of rapport have been shown to facilitate an interviewee’s decision to
cooperate, leading to an increase in information disclosure (Brimbal et al., 2021; Brimbal et al.,
2019; Dianiska et al., 2021).
INTERVIEWING & INTERROGATIONS 9
Several tactics have been recommended to facilitate rapport (and ultimately information
disclosure) and typically fall into one of three domains (Gabbert et al., 2021). First, relationship-
building tactics can be used to promote a personal connection between the interviewer and
interviewee. Examples include showing interest in the interviewee and finding common ground,
which can be achieved via self-disclosure of personal information by the interviewer. Second,
demeanor-based approaches can be used to characterize the interviewer as friendly and
approachable. Such behaviors include a pleasant tone of voice, smiling, and open body language.
Third, tactics that demonstrate the interviewer is paying attention can be used, including active
listening skills (e.g., nonverbal behaviors such as head nods and eye contact, and appropriate
verbal responses such as reflective statements and summaries) and empathetic responses (i.e.,
responses that demonstrate authentic concern and understanding for the interviewee’s
perspective; see Meissner et al., 2021, for more on developing rapport).
Presentation of Evidence
Accusatorial forms of evidence presentation involve confronting a suspect with evidence
early in the interview to overwhelm the suspect with incriminating information. Such evidence
presentation, however, can be detrimental to the productiveness of the interview, as it can
increase suspect resistance (Kelly et al., 2015) and offers deceptive individuals an opportunity to
create a narrative that explains the incriminating evidence (Hartwig et al., 2005). Research has
demonstrated the benefits of disclosing evidence towards the end of the interview or gradually
throughout the interview (see more on the Strategic Use of Evidence, Granhag & Hartwig, 2015,
and the Tactical Use of Evidence, Dando & Bull, 2011). Such evidence disclosure methods
increase the number of statement-evidence inconsistencies made by guilty (vs. innocent)
individuals (Oleszkiewicz & Watson, 2021).
INTERVIEWING & INTERROGATIONS 10
Strategic Questioning to Assess Credibility
Interviewers can improve the accuracy of credibility assessments by implementing
strategic questioning tactics that enhance the differences between truthful and deceptive
statements (Vrij, 2015). Classifications of such tactics include (Vrij et al., 2017): (a) imposing
cognitive load (increasing cognitive demands via tactics such as instructing interviewees to tell
their narrative in reverse chronological order—instructions that prove difficult for liars, as
fabricating information is already a cognitively-taxing task); (b) prompting interviewees to say
more (such an instruction can include a model statement that provides interviewees with an
example of the level of detail the interviewer is seeking—a level of detail that may be difficult
for liars to generate); and (c) asking unanticipated questions (questions that liars most likely
would not have prepared for and, therefore, would have difficulty answering on the spot).
Overall, strategic questioning leads to increased accuracy in distinguishing liars from truth-
tellers, although this improved accuracy emerges only when individuals are trained in such
methods (Mac Giolla & Luke, 2021).
Despite a general shift towards science-based interviewing approaches in recent years,
accusatorial approaches continue to be taught and implemented in the interrogation of
suspects/sources. For instance, a survey of active practitioners found that American and
Canadian practitioners were more likely to endorse the use of accusatorial techniques, while
practitioners from Europe, Australia, and New Zealand were more likely to adopt science-based
approaches (Miller et al., 2018). In the transition to science-based approaches, seasoned
practitioners may adopt a “toolbox” approach that includes the continued use of accusatorial
tactics (Snook et al., 2020). Such an approach can undermine the investigative value of science-
INTERVIEWING & INTERROGATIONS 11
based techniques and highlights the need for a comprehensive model of science-based
interviewing that can effectively address subject resistance (Meissner et al., 2021).
The refinement and adoption of such a comprehensive science-based interviewing model
is most likely to come about via collaborations between researchers and practitioners. Although
investigative interviewing studies conducted in the lab arguably lack a high level of ecological
validity, they are crucial to determining a technique’s efficacy (whether, and why, an
interviewing technique results in desired outcomes). Furthermore, laboratory-based research is
especially informative for understanding a technique’s diagnosticity (whether a technique can
increase the rate of true information/confessions without increasing the rate of false
information/confessions), given that ground-truth can be controlled. To truly understand the real-
world impact of an interviewing technique, however, it is critical to determine its effectiveness
(testing the technique in the field and measuring desired outcomes). This is where collaborations
with practitioners can be especially fruitful and facilitate the application and translation of
research into training protocols that can be assessed for effectiveness (Bornstein & Meissner,
Overall, the science of interviewing and interrogation has evaluated practices from the
third degree to modern rapport-based methods. Modern day science-based methods are derived
from psychological theory and focused on the twin goals of gaining a subject’s cooperation and
eliciting investigation-relevant information (not confessions). This shift from a confession-
focused approach to an information-gathering approach has been key to reducing the number of
wrongful convictions based on false information or false confessions, while ensuring that justice
is served in an ethical and effective manner.
INTERVIEWING & INTERROGATIONS 12
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