Behavioral Research Blog

Observe police interrogations – research on adolescence

Posted by Annelies Verkerk on Feb 12, 2014

AdolescentInterrogation research crosses multiple disciplines. For example, researchers will look into demographics but also investigate the techniques of interrogation. Recently, Hayley Cleary and Sarah Vidal investigated interrogations in order to describe interrogation settings and its participants in a basic way. They explain that such information about the participants and the setting is still missing and that they are particularly interested in how adolescents act in interrogation settings.

Adolescent behavior

Cleary and Vidal state that more and better data about juvenile behavior and decision-making during interrogation would greatly inform the public discourse in research, law, and policy pertaining to police interviewing of youth. So in this study, interrogations with adolescent suspects were described. The researchers argue that it is well known that adolescents are less risk-averse than adults. Recently, a film director claimed that adolescents watch more horror movies compared to adults because it prepares them for what lies ahead. They don’t hold back when confronted with risk. Adolescents have different boundaries compared to grownups. They tend to think more on the short term and not about the consequences of their behavior.

Observational study

According to Cleary and Vidal, there is surprisingly little known about this unique context. Therefore, they started the first ever observational study of juvenile interrogations to be derived entirely from electronic recordings. The study aimed to document actual behavior and decision-making in police interrogations of youth suspects. Observational data are by far the best feasible option for addressing these fundamental questions.

Coding and analysis

A total of 57 electronically recorded interrogations were analyzed. Cleary and Vidal applied The Observer XT coding and analysis software because of its significant advantages over traditional observational methods. They describe that for complex behaviors that require multiple coders for reliability purposes, The Observer XT can combine all coders’ files into a single master file where all codes can be compared. Moreover, coding accuracy and completeness is assured because of easy pausing and playback of the videos.

Results & conclusion

After analyzing the 57 interrogations, they paint a picture of the suspects – “a White or Black middle-adolescent male accused of serious person or property crimes”. The interrogators were typically male and the sessions lasted for about an hour. Mostly, the interrogations took place at a police station. Cleary and Vidal concluded that more research is needed to understand how interrogation duration impacts the wellbeing of adolescents under interrogation. They explain that it is possible, for example, that a youthful suspect may perceive a one hour questioning period as more stressful and more coercive than an adult suspect and may be more likely to comply with interrogative requests as a result. You can imagine the importance when you read that in other research, 78% of the participants (12/13 years old) signed an (untrue) confession statement!

Reference

  • Cleary, H.M.D.; Vidal, S. (2014). Police interviewing and interrogation of adolescent suspects: process and outcomes. In Psychology, Law, and the Wellbeing of Children. Editors: Monica K. Miller, Jared Chamberlain,Twila Wingrove. Oxford University Press.

Topics: The Observer XT, on-site research, video observation, coding schemes, adolescent behavior

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