The Effect of Rapport in Forensic Interviewing

Article excerpt

The psychological literature suggests that establishing rapport between interviewer and subject--whether in clinical, experimental or forensic settings--is likely to enhance the quality of the interaction. Yet there are surprisingly few studies that test this assumption. This article reports a study of the effect of rapport on eyewitness recall of a dramatic videotaped event by creating three interviewer-attitude conditions--"rapport", "neutral" and "abrupt". Participants were randomly assigned to the three conditions, and recall was elicited by two methods--free narrative and a semi-structured questionnaire. The results indicate participants in the rapport interview recalled more correct information, and the same amount of incorrect information as participants in the other two conditions. However, prompting via the semi-structured questionnaire yielded additional correct as well as incorrect information for the neutral and abrupt conditions. The results are discussed for their relevance to interviews conducted in forensic settings, and to highlight the need for more specific and improved interview training for police and other justice personnel.

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Forensic Interviewing

Forensic interviewing is a burgeoning enterprise. Police, crime control agents (e.g., tax, customs, securities), lawyers, psychologists, other health professionals and private security personnel all conduct forensic interviews. Generally, however, the research literature concentrates on interviews performed by police with witnesses, victims or suspects (McMahon, 2000). Forensic interviews are merely aimed at obtaining a narrative of what was observed (Gudjonsson, 1992) which is a seemingly prosaic and achievable goal. Yet it can be an imprecise practice, as shown by the equivocal results in the research literature about the most appropriate strategy, the best outcome methods to utilise, and the characteristics of both interviewers and interviewees that elicit more useful information (Forrester, McMahon & Greenwood, 2001).

What is less equivocal is the critical role that forensic interviews play in criminal investigations (Sanders, 1986). Crime investigations require considerable interaction by operational police with members of the public (Swanton & Wilson, 1992). Obtaining information by way of "purposive conversations" comprises up to 80% of the duties of law enforcement personnel (Newberry, 1997) and, of course, the objective is to gather information that is as accurate and complete as possible in order for police to be as effective and efficient as possible (Gudjonsson, 1992). Witness accuracy and completeness are essential factors in determining if a case is solved or not (Fisher, McCauley & Geiselman, 1994; Sanders, 1986) and is recognised as a critically important element of criminal investigations (C.R. Bartol & A.M. Bartol, 1994; Geiselman & Fisher, 1989).

In addition, this information-gathering process may have evidential ramifications that affect subsequent forensic procedures (committal, trial, etc.). The reliability of the process is also important in avoiding miscarriages of justice, where it is estimated that perhaps 3,000 cases of criminal justice errors in the United States annually may be attributed to incorrect eyewitness testimony (Py, Ginet, Desperies & Cathey, 1997). Furthermore, greater efficiencies in crime clear-up rates would seem achievable if law enforcement personnel were properly trained in effective interviewing practices, thereby allowing for improved collection of witness information and enhanced investigative productivity (Grabosky, 1992; Wrightsman, Nietzel & Fortune, 1994).

Despite this acknowledged importance of the police interview, many police do not receive adequate training (Fisher, Chin & McCauley, 1990; Fisher et al., 1994; Lauchland & Le Brun, 1996). There is often little formal instruction, with officers learning their interview skills in the field, which may foster the use of erroneous methods and result in considerable loss of potentially valuable information (Fisher et al. …