Interviewing & Interrogation

Our research in this area has focused on several important factors that influence the efficacy of interview and interrogation procedures involving uncooperative subjects. We have examined each of these issues by applying experimental laboratory and field research methodologies.


Developing Effective, Science-Based Methods of Interrogation

Given what we now know regarding the ineffectiveness of current interrogation practices, including substantive issues of social justice and human rights, our laboratory has advocated a turn to scientific knowledge to improve the effectiveness of interview and interrogation methods.  This perspective is drawn from independent observation, is theory driven and empirically derived, and is founded upon the principles of replication and peer review.  For the past decade, we have engaged in an effort to identify “what works” in the interrogation room – to develop humane, ethical, theoretically-derived and empirically-proven methods of interrogation that support the collection of critical intelligence and evidence, while also protecting the rights of individuals and reducing the likelihood of false confessions.  In particular, our research has included assessing current methods of interrogation (used by law enforcement, military, and intelligence personnel) through systematic observations and interviews with seasoned interrogators; evaluating the efficacy of these methods in the laboratory and developing new, theoretically-derived methods under controlled conditions; and creating collaborative relationships with major training academies in the U.S. to experimentally compare these science-based methods with existing practices.

Brimbal, L., Kleinman, S. M., Oleszkiewicz, S., & Meissner, C. A. (2019, in press). Developing rapport and trust in the interrogative context. In S. Barela et al.’s (Eds.), Interrogation and torture: Research on efficacy and its integration with morality and legality. Oxford University Press.

Brandon, S. E., Arthur, J. C., Ray, D. G., Meissner, C. A., Kleinman, S. M., Russano, M. B., & Wells, S. (2019). The High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG): Inception, evolution, and impact. In M. Staal & S. Harvey’s (Eds.), Operational psychology: A new field to support national security and public safety (pp. 263-285). Santa Barbara, CA: ACB-CLIO.

Brimbal, L., Dianiska, R. E., Swanner, J. K., & Meissner, C. A. (2019). Enhancing cooperation and disclosure by manipulating affiliation and developing rapport in investigative interviews. Psychology, Public Policy, & Law, 25, 107-115.

Dianiska, R. E., Swanner, J. K., Brimbal, L., & Meissner, C. A. (2019). Conceptual priming and context reinstatement: A test of direct and indirect interview techniques. Law & Human Behavior, 43, 131-143.

Meissner, C. A., & Lyles, A. M. (2019). Title IX investigations: The critical importance of training investigators in evidence-based approaches to investigative interviewing. Journal of Applied
Research in Memory & Cognition, 8, 387-397.

Russano, M. B., Kelly, C. E., & Meissner, C. A. (2019). From the ivory tower to the interrogation room: Training and field evaluation research on suspect interviewing. In R. Bull & I. Blandon-Gitlin’s (Eds.), Handbook of legal and investigative psychology (pp. 287-310). New York, NY: Routledge.

Meissner, C. A., Surmon-Bohr, F., Oleszkiewicz, S., & Alison, L. (2017). Developing an evidence-based perspective on interrogation: A review of the U.S. government’s High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group research program. Psychology, Public Policy, & Law, 23, 438-457.

Vrij, A., Meissner, C. A., Kassin, S. M., Morgan III, A., Fisher, R. P., & Kleinman, S. M. (2017)Psychological perspectives on interrogation. Perspectives in Psychological Science, 12, 927-955. 

Swanner, J. K., Meissner, C. A., Atkinson, D., & Dianiska, R. (2016). Developing diagnostic,evidence-based approaches to interrogation. Journal of Applied Research in Memory & Cognition, 5, 295-301.

Narchet, F. M., Russano, M. B., Kleinman, S. M., & Meissner, C. A. (2016). A (nearly) 360° perspective of the interrogation process: Communicating with high-value targets. In G. Oxburgh et al. (Eds.), Communication in investigative and legal contexts: Integrated approaches from forensic psychology, linguistics, and law enforcement (pp. 159-178). John Wiley & Sons.

Meissner, C. A., Kelly, C. E., & Woestehoff, S. A. (2015). Improving the effectiveness of suspect interrogations. Annual Review of Law & Social Sciences, 11, 211-233.

Evans, J. R., Houston, K. A., Meissner, C. A., Ross, A. B., LaBianca, J. R., Woestehoff, S. A., & Kleinman, S. M. (2014). An empirical evaluation of intelligence gathering interrogation techniques from the United States Army Field Manual. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 28, 867-875.

Granhag, P. A., Vrij, A., & Meissner, C. A. (2014). Information gathering in law enforcement and intelligence settings. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 28, 815-816.

Hartwig, M., Meissner, C. A., & Semel, M. D. (2014). Human intelligence interviewing and interrogation: Assessing the challenges of developing an ethical, evidence-based approach. In R. Bull’s (Ed.), Investigative interviewing (pp. 209-228). New York: Springer.

Russano, M. B., Narchet, F. M., Kleinman, S. M., & Meissner, C. A. (2014). Structured interviews of experienced intelligence and military interrogators. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 28, 847-859.

St-Yves, M. & Meissner, C. A. (2014). Interviewing suspects. In M. St-Yves (Ed.), Investigative interviewing: The essential handbook of best practices (pp. 145-190). Toronto: Carswell.

Evans, J. R., Meissner, C. A., Ross, A. B., Houston, K. A., Russano, M. B., & Horgan, A. J. (2013)Obtaining guilty knowledge in human intelligence interrogations: Comparing accusatorial and information-gathering approaches with a novel experimental paradigm. Journal of Applied Research in Memory & Cognition, 2, 83-88.

Evans, J. R., Meissner, C. A., Brandon, S. E., Russano, M. B., & Kleinman, S. M. (2010). Criminal versus HUMINT interrogations: The importance of psychological science to improving interrogative practice. Journal of Psychiatry & Law, 38, 215-249.

Lassiter, G. D., & Meissner, C. A. (2010). Police interrogations and false confessions: Current research, practice, and policy recommendations. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Meissner, C. A., Hartwig, M., & Russano, M. B. (2010). The need for a positive psychological approach and collaborative effort for improving practice in the interrogation room. Law & Human Behavior, 34, 43-45.

Kassin, S. M., Leo, R. A., Meissner, C. A., Richman, K. D., Colwell, L. H., Leach, A-M., & La Fon, D. (2007). Police interviewing and interrogation: A self-report survey of police practices and beliefs. Law & Human Behavior, 31, 381-400.


Accusatorial Tactics That Can Lead to False Confessions

Modern accusatorial approaches, which are both legal and trained to the majority of federal, state, and local law enforcement in the United States, operate by manipulating a suspect’s beliefs about the consequences of confessing, including the use of emotional “themes” that diminish feelings of guilt and lessen culpability.  Trickery and deception are the foundation of these approaches: police can lie to a suspect, present false evidence of their guilt, and manipulate their fears and anxieties.  Though lacking many of the physical elements of torture, the powerful effects of accusatorial approaches have been shown to produce false confessions when applied against the innocent.  Our research has shown that minimizing the potential consequences associated with confession increases the likelihood that innocents will confess, and that investigators who believe in a suspect’s “guilt” will conduct longer, more coercive interrogations, producing a cycle of behavioral confirmation that leads to confession by the innocent.  Over the past several decades, our laboratory has conducted considerable research to understand the psychological and criminological processes leading to false confession.

Crosby, S., Irvine, D. R., Meissner, C. A., & Roehm, S. (2019). Go see the report, then let’s put torture to bed for good. Just Security. Published online November 14, 2019.

Woestehoff, S. A., & Meissner, C. A. (2018). False confessions. In R. Kocsis’ (Ed.), Applied criminal psychology: A guide to forensic behavioral sciences (2nd Ed., pp. 273-292). Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas Publisher, LTD.

Kelly, C. E. & Meissner, C. A. (2015). Interrogation and investigative interviewing in the United States: Research and practice. In D. Walsh et al. (Eds.), International developments and practices in investigative interviewing and interrogation: Volume 2 (suspects) (pp. 255-266). London: Routledge.

Houston, K. A., Meissner, C. A., & Evans, J. R. (2014). Psychological processes underlying true and false confessions. In R. Bull’s (Ed.), Investigative interviewing (pp. 19-34). New York: Springer.

Kelly, C. E., Redlich, A. D., Evans, J. R., & Meissner, C. A. (2014). Interview and interrogation methods effects on confession accuracy. In G. Bruinsma & D. Weisburd’s (Eds.), Encyclopedia of criminology and criminal justice (pp. 2673-2679). New York: Springer.

Meissner, C. A., Redlich, A. R., Michael, S. W., Evans, J. R., Camilletti, C. R., Bhatt, S., & Brandon, S. (2014). Accusatorial and information-gathering interrogation methods and their effects on true and false confessions: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 10, 459-486.

Horgan, A. J., Russano, M. B., Meissner, C. A., & Evans, J. R. (2012). Minimization and maximization techniques: Assessing the perceived consequences of confessing and confession diagnosticity. Psychology, Crime, & Law, 18, 65-78.

Narchet, F. M., Meissner, C. A., & Russano, M. B. (2011). Modeling the influence of investigator bias on the elicitation of true and false confessions. Law & Human Behavior, 35, 452-465.

Meissner, C. A., & Lassiter, G. D. (2010). What have we learned? Implications for interrogation practice, policy, and future research. In G. D. Lassiter & C. Meissner’s (Eds.), Police interrogations and false confessions: Current research, practice, and policy recommendations (pp. 225-229). Washington, DC: APA.

Meissner, C. A., Russano, M. B., & Narchet, F. M. (2010). The importance of a laboratory science for improving the diagnostic value of confession evidence. In G. D. Lassiter & C. Meissner’s (Eds.), Police interrogations and false confessions: Current research, practice, and policy recommendations (pp. 111-126). Washington, DC: APA.

Meissner, C. A., Horgan, A. J., & Albrechtsen, J. S. (2009). False confessions. In R. Kocsis’ (Ed.), Applied criminal psychology: A guide to forensic behavioral sciences (pp. 191-212). Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas Publisher, LTD.

Redlich, A. D., & Meissner, C. A. (2009). Techniques and controversies in the interrogation of suspects: The artful practice versus the scientific study. In J. Skeem et al.’s (Eds.), Psychological science in the courtroom: Controversies and consensus (pp. 124-148). Guilford Press.

Meissner, C. A., & Albrechtsen, J. S. (2007). Interrogation and torture. 2007 Yearbook of science & technology (pp. 125-127), New York: McGraw-Hill.

Russano, M. B., Meissner, C. A., Narchet, F. M., & Kassin, S. M. (2005). Investigating true and false confessions within a novel experimental paradigm. Psychological Science, 16, 481-486.

Meissner, C. A., & Kassin, S. M. (2004). “You’re guilty, so just confess!”: Cognitive and behavioral confirmation biases in the interrogation room. In D. Lassiter’s (Ed.), Interrogations, confessions, and entrapment (pp. 85-106). Kluwer Academic.

Meissner, C. A., & Russano, M. B. (2003). The psychology of interrogations and false confessions: Research and recommendations. Canadian Journal of Police & Security Services, 1, 53-64.