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Does personality matter in investigative interviewing?


December 28, 2020
By Dr. Davut Akca

Training, work experience, and evidence-based methods are key factors that can lead police officers to conduct effective investigative interviews. But what about personality?

An investigative interview is a complex and dynamic interaction between police and citizens. It is also one of the most challenging tasks a police officer faces for several reasons, including the unwillingness of the interviewee to talk or the high-stakes nature of the interaction. Interviewers must utilize specialized strategies and skills to overcome these challenges and generate the maximum amount of accurate and reliable information from interviewees. Research has indicated consistently, however, that most police interviewers do not follow best practices.

Instead, despite being trained and/or experienced, interviewers frequently use counterproductive methods such as assumption of guilt, asking leading questions, interrupting the interviewee, acting aggressively, and talking more than the interviewee. They also often demonstrate a lack of confidence and fail to control the interview.

In a recent lab study, (www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15614263.2019.1644177), Dr. Joseph Eastwood and I examined whether personality is another variable in the equation that might explain why certain people are better interviewers than others. The rationale behind this study was that previous research has focused more on training and experience to explain the variation in interview performance but paid little attention to the personality effect.

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The friendly, sociable, and warm nature of extraverts might help them to build better rapport and engage people to interview throughout the process.

In our study, we had 154 student participants interview others who watched a mock robbery crime video. We also asked the interviewers to complete the Five Factor Model (a.k.a. Big Five) personality test. We assessed their performance based on four measures: amount of details elicited, perception of the witness, interviewer behaviours, and question usage.

We reached some meaningful results when we analyzed the relationship between personality factors and performance measures. Three dimensions of the Big Five were associated with the success measures:

• Agreeableness with witness perception and appropriate questioning,
• Extraversion with interviewer behaviours and inappropriate questioning, and
• Openness with interviewer behaviours.

So, what do these findings tell us? Briefly, people who score higher on Agreeableness, Extraversion, and Openness might perform better at interviewing than those who score lower.

Having a closer look at these personality dimensions will provide a better understanding of the findings. Agreeable people, for instance, are more courteous, flexible, trusting, good-natured, and tolerant. These traits might help them to build better rapport with interviewees, which explains why they were perceived more positively by witnesses in our study.

High scorers in the Openness factor are known to be imaginative, cultured, curious, broadminded, and artistically sensitive. Thus, Openness is relevant to creativity and originality, which might be two key skills to overcome the challenges of the interview process such as unpredictability of the interaction and unwillingness of interviewees to talk.

Finally, the friendly, sociable, and warm nature of Extraverts might help them to build better rapport and engage people to interview throughout the process. However, their talkative and assertive nature might lead them to talk more, ask leading questions, and interrupt interviewees frequently, which are not among the desired methods in evidence-based interview models.

These findings are only tentative of course. More research is needed to identify the most valid predictors of interview performance. However, our findings indicate that personality matters in interview performance. Lab research findings like we reached should be supported through the examination of real-life interview performances of interviewers. This can be achieved through enhanced co-operation between practitioners and researchers. With more research on this interesting aspect of investigative interviewing, personality psychology has the potential to enable police departments to identify successful interviewers.
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Sources
1. Baldwin, J. (1993). Police interview techniques; establishing truth or proof? British Journal of Criminology, 33(3), 325-352.
2. Griffiths, A. & Milne, R. (2006). Will it all end in tiers? Police interviews with suspects in Britain. In T. Williamson (Ed.), Investigative interviewing: rights, research and regulation. (pp. 167–189). Portland, OR: Willan.
3. Meissner, C., Redlich, A., Michael, S., Evans, J., Camilletti, C., 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(4), 459–486.
4. Milne, R. & Bull, R. (1999). Investigative Interviewing: Psychology and Practice. Chichester: Wiley.
5. Snook, B., Eastwood, J., Stinson, M., Tedeschini, J., & House, J. C. (2010). Reforming Investigative Interviewing in Canada. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 52(2), 215–229.
6. Snook, B., & Keating, K. (2011). A field study of adult witness interviewing practices in a Canadian police organization. Legal & Criminological Psychology, 16(1), 160–172.

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Dr. Davut Akca is a research officer at the University of Saskatchewan’s Centre for Forensic Behavioural Sciences and Justice Studies (https://cfbsjs.usask.ca/). To hear more about this technique, share your expertise, or find out how you can get involved contact him at davut.akca@usask.ca.


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