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The Need for a Positive Psychological Approach
and Collaborative Effort for Improving Practice
in the Interrogation Room
Christian A. Meissner •Maria Hartwig •
Melissa B. Russano
Published online: 15 January 2010
ÓAmerican Psychology-Law Society/Division 41 of the American Psychological Association 2010
Abstract The White Paper suggests important reforms
that will reduce the likelihood of false confessions resulting
from police interrogation. The research underlying these
suggested reforms has yielded signiﬁcant advances in our
understanding of factors associated with false confessions.
As we move forward, we encourage the development of
empirically based approaches that provide a viable alter-
native to current practice. In doing so, we suggest that
researchers pursue a positive psychological approach that
involves partnering with practitioners to systematically
develop interrogative methods that are shown to be more
diagnostic. By taking such an approach, we believe that the
recommendations offered in the current White Paper can be
supplemented by methods that carry the support of both
scientiﬁc and law enforcement communities.
Keywords Interrogation Confessions
Police interrogations and confessions have been a topic of
scientiﬁc inquiry for several decades, including a number
of important ﬁeld and archival studies conducted in the
United States and Great Britain in the 1980s and 1990s
(Drizin & Leo, 2004; Gudjonsson, 2003; Leo, 1996), and
more recent experimental research conducted over the past
15 years (Kassin & Kiechel, 1996; Russano, Meissner,
Narchet, & Kassin, 2005). The White Paper, authored by
Kassin, Drizin, Grisso, Gudjonsson, Leo, and Redlich
(2009), provides an important overview of this research
and highlights at least three important ‘‘risk factors’’
associated with false confessions: investigative biases,
psychologically manipulative interrogation tactics, and
characteristics that make some individuals more suggest-
ible in the interrogation room. Kassin et al. conclude their
review by suggesting that several reforms be considered
within the U.S. legal system, including the mandatory
recording of all custodial interrogations, prohibiting the use
of certain interrogation approaches, and providing certain
protections to vulnerable populations. We agree with these
recommendations and believe they are well supported by
the research literature.
As we move forward, we believe it is important to
recognize that the responsibility to change interrogation
practice lies not only with policy makers and practitioners,
but also with the scientiﬁc community. Ultimately, the
challenge for future research is to begin the development of
evidence-based practices that might aid law enforcement in
eliciting more diagnostic confession evidence, and thereby
provide an alternative to the problematic methods that are
currently employed. If the research community is to
encourage such reform within the legal system, we believe
that two interrelated issues must become the focus of future
First, there is growing interest in the realm of positive
psychology as applied to the legal system, in which
research is oriented toward identifying accurate legal pro-
cesses or decisions rather than simply exposing biases or
documenting errors. Yet, to-date only a handful of studies
have taken a positive approach to the topic of police
C. A. Meissner (&)
University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, TX, USA
John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University
of New York, New York, NY, USA
M. B. Russano
Roger Williams University, Bristol, RI, USA
Law Hum Behav (2010) 34:43–45
interrogations in which researchers seek to systematically
identify or develop more diagnostic interrogative tactics (as
opposed to focusing solely on false confessions; e.g.,
Hartwig, Granhag, Stro
¨mwall, & Kronkvist, 2006; Meiss-
ner, Russano, & Narchet, 2010). As a result, although we
can offer law enforcement research-based guidance on
tactics to avoid during interrogation, at this point we are
somewhat limited in our ability to offer scientiﬁcally sup-
ported recommendations on eliciting true confessions.
Given the abundance of manuals and training programs
available to law enforcement agencies that promote ﬂawed
interrogation tactics (Granhag & Vrij, 2005), we believe
that the ability to offer effective alternatives is of critical
importance. To address this situation, we encourage
researchers to adopt the approach often seen in the eye-
witness literature, in which considerable efforts have been
devoted to identifying alternative procedures that may
increase the diagnostic value of the eyewitness evidence
(Technical Working Group for Eyewitness Evidence, 1999;
Wells et al., 1998). We propose that a systematic, experi-
mental approach to identifying and developing more
diagnostic interrogative methods is ideal for at least two
reasons (see also Meissner et al., 2010). First, an experi-
mental approach allows researchers to generate and test
hypotheses about tactics derived from basic psychological
theory (Granhag & Hartwig, 2008). Second, experimental
research provides the possibility of systematic and con-
trolled tests of promising interrogation techniques in which
ground truth (and therein the diagnostic value of the
approach) can be established. Following initial develop-
ment in the laboratory, such methods can (and should) be
further examined in the ﬁeld. This brings us to our second
In order to develop and implement more appropriate,
evidence-based interrogation methods, we also urge
researchers to seek opportunities to partner with police
investigators (see also Kassin & Gudjonsson, 2004). As
noted by Soukara, Bull, Vrij, Turner, and Cherryman
(2009), collaboration with law enforcement in Great Brit-
ain has played a signiﬁcant role in the success of reforms
there (see also Bull, 1999). Collaborations here in the
United States should similarly seek to engage police
investigators in the scientiﬁc process and the critical
evaluation of interrogative methods. Of course, collabora-
tion requires willingness on the part of both research and
law enforcement communities. It is not unusual for law
enforcement to express a reluctance to cooperate on
research projects, and their lack of trust with the scientiﬁc
community represents a serious obstacle for progress on
these issues. Nevertheless, we believe that such efforts are
needed, as collaboration would not only result in the
development of better interrogative methods, but should
also encourage the continued evaluation of such methods in
the ﬁeld—a process that Bull et al. have employed suc-
cessfully in Great Britain over the past decade (see Bull &
Soukara, 2010). We have begun to implement this collab-
orative strategy in recent and ongoing research efforts, and
have found investigators motivated both to engage in the
research process and to learn of alternative, scientiﬁcally
based strategies for interrogation and credibility assess-
ment (cf. Evans, Meissner, Brandon, Russano, &
Kleinman, in press). We encourage other researchers to
pursue such opportunities, as our success in reforming the
current system will ultimately depend upon our ability to
identify areas of mutual interest and collaboration with key
In summary, we believe it is important that researchers
adopt a positive, collaborative approach if we are to suc-
cessfully engage the criminal justice system in the reform
of interrogative practices. As a ﬁeld, we must systemati-
cally develop alternative, evidence-based approaches that
improve the diagnostic value of confession evidence. By
partnering with investigators in this positive approach and
engaging them in the scientiﬁc process, the recommenda-
tions offered in the current White Paper can soon be
supplemented by research on productive and diagnostic
interrogative methods that carry the support of both sci-
entiﬁc and law enforcement communities.
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