The Psychology of Interrogations and Confessions: A Handbook / Edition 1

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False confessions do occur and no legal system can afford to deny that serious mistakes have been, and will continue to be, made without radical change. The impact of psychological research and expert testimony on legal changes, police practice and legal judgements in England and Northern Ireland is unparalleled in the rest of the world and valuable lessons have been learned as a result. A number of high profile murder and terrorist convictions based largely on confession evidence have been quashed on appeal. In The Psychology of Interrogations and Confessions, Gisli Gudjonsson traces the scientific advances and relevant cases, many of which he was directly involved with, and demonstrates their legal and psychological significance. The Psychology of Interrogations and Confessions is a comprehensive and authoritative handbook that demonstrates the crucial relationship between research and practice. In Part I, interrogation tactics used by the police in the USA and Britain are reviewed and the reasons why suspects confess to crimes are examined. In Part II, differences between English and American legal systems are highlighted and the concepts of suggestibility, compliance and acquiescence are discussed in detail, along with the effects of drugs and alcohol. Twenty-two leading disputed confession cases are presented and evaluated in Part III, showing how high court judges have become more sophisticated in the way they admit and rely on expert psychological and psychiatric testimony. Part IV provides a detailed discussion of seven high profile cases from outside Britain. They demonstrate how different legal systems approach, view and evaluate disputed confession evidence and expert testimony, providing material of international significance. With its fascinating, detailed vignettes, The Psychology of Interrogations and Confessions is essential reading for clinical and forensic psychologists and others in the legal, psychological

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"…a comprehensive and authorative handbook that demonstrates the crucial relationship between research and practice…" (Internet Book Reviews, 17 January 2003)

“…I am impressed with this handbook…an important addition to the bookshelves…” (Applied Cognitive Psychology, No.18 2004) 

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Gisli Gudjonsson is Professor of Forensic Psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College, London and Head of Forensic Psychology Services, Maudsley Hospital, London

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Read an Excerpt

The Psychology of Interrogations and Confessions

A Handbook
By Gisli H. Gudjonsson

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-471-49136-5

Chapter One

Interrogation Tactics and Techniques

The purpose of this chapter is to discuss the tactics and techniques advocated by practical interrogation manuals and the context in which interrogations occur. Nearly all published interrogation manuals originate in the USA (for a review see Leo, 1992, 1994). One exception is Walkley's (1987) Police Interrogation. A Handbook for Investigators, which was the first manual written for British police officers. It was heavily influenced by traditional American interrogation manuals and never gained national support in Britain.

In this chapter I shall discuss the nature of these techniques, their strengths and merits, and how their use can 'go wrong'. Of course, there are a large number of interrogation manuals regularly published in the USA, with each author claiming special expertise in the field and offering advice to interrogators. It would be unrealistic to try to review all of these manuals. Undoubtedly, the most influential practical manual is the one written by Inbau, Reid and Buckley (1986). This manual has just been revised, up-dated and expanded (Inbau, Reid, Buckley & Jayne, 2001). Hundreds of thousands of investigators have received the training in their technique (Inbau et al., 2001). Their book has also influenced many other authors; thus the main focus of this chapter will be on this approach and its implications. Other relevant publications will be referred to at appropriate points and issues discussed.


Practical interrogation manuals are generally based on the extensive experience of interrogators and offer allegedly effective techniques for breaking down suspects' resistance. The authors of these manuals argue that most criminal suspects are reluctant to confess because of the shame associated with what they have done and the fear of the legal consequences. In their view, a certain amount of pressure, deception, persuasion and manipulation is essential if the 'truth' is to be revealed. Furthermore, they view persuasive interrogation techniques as essential to police work and feel justified in using them. The degree of persuasion recommended varies in different manuals. One of the most crude and extreme forms of persuasion recommended in a modern interrogation manual is in a book by Patrick McDonald (1993) entitled Make 'Em Talk! Principles of Military Interrogation, which states on the back cover

Every military has its ways of making subjects talk and this book takes you step-by-step through the most common, effective, and notorious methods used, including those favored by the Japanese, Germans, Koreans, Vietnamese, and Iraqis.

McDonald then goes on to describe how he recommends interrogators break down resistance and denials by inducing debilitation and exhaustion:

If you have subjects under your total physical control, you can wear them down and make them easier to exploit and more compliant. One of the simplest methods to debilitate people physically is to severely limit their food intake or intermittently refuse them food altogether (p. 44).

Most other manuals (e.g. Inbau, Reid & Buckley, 1986; Inbau et al., 2001; Macdonald & Michaud, 1992; Rabon, 1992, 1994; Royal & Schutte, 1976; Stubbs & Newberry, 1998; Walkley, 1987) are more psychologically sophisticated than McDonald's coercive guide to interrogators, but they rely to a varying degree on the processes of influence and persuasion. This reliance on persuasion is inevitable in view of the reluctance of many suspects to admit to their crimes or certain aspects of their crimes. There is an extensive literature on the psychology of persuasion, which demonstrates its potentially powerful influence in different contexts (Cialdini, 1993).

Leo (1994) correctly points out that persuasion in the context of interrogation is the process of convincing suspects that their best interests are served by their making a confession. In order to achieve this objective the police may engage in a range of deception strategies. These include the following.

Police officers concealing their identity while trying to obtain a confession (e.g. pretending to be a fellow prison inmate, befriending a person under false pretences, posing as a criminal). Such undercover operations are practised in some countries, for example, in Canada, the USA, and Britain. In Britain such an undercover operation went seriously wrong in the case of the famous murder of Rachel Nickell in 1992 on Wimbledon Common, South London (Britton, 1997; Fielder, 1994; Gudjonsson & Haward, 1998; Stagg & Kessler, 1999). In Britain, undercover police officers are not allowed legally to entrap people or coerce a confession out of them. In contrast, such undercover operations are commonly used in Canada to coerce confessions out of resistant suspects and they are allowed in evidence because they fall outside the legal framework of custodial interrogation (see Chapter 22).

During interrogation the police may misrepresent the nature or seriousness of the offence (e.g. in a murder case by lying to the suspect that the victim is still alive and may talk, or implying that the death must have been accident or unpremeditated).

Employing trickery is, according to Leo (1994), the most common police deception during interrogation. This typically involves presenting the suspect with false evidence of guilt (e.g. falsely claiming that a co-defendant has confessed, exaggerating the strength of evidence against the suspect, falsely claiming that the police are in possession of forensic or eyewitness evidence that indicates the suspect's guilt or lying about the results from a polygraph test).

There is a general reluctance among the authors of police interrogation manuals to accept the possibility that their recommended techniques could, in certain instances, make a suspect confess to a crime that he or she had not committed. Indeed, most interrogation manuals completely ignore this possibility. Some authors of interrogation manuals, for example Macdonald and Michaud (1992), at least acknowledge that false confessions do happen on occasions, but their understanding of false confessions is restricted to two main causes: 'A wish for publicity and notoriety' and 'Forceful prolonged questioning with threats of violence' (p. 7). This represents a very restricted view of false confessions. Macdonald and Michaud (1992), unlike Inbau, Reid and Buckley (1986), point to the dangers of using leading questions and recommend that interviewers should not lie to suspects. Their apparently ethical approach falls down when they recommend how suspects should be advised of their legal rights:

Do not make a big issue of advising the suspect of his rights. Do it quickly, do it briefly, and do not repeat it (p. 17).

Zimbardo (1967) argued, on the basis of his early review of American police training manuals, that the techniques recommended were psychologically sophisticated and 'coercive'. He went as far as to suggest that they were an infringement of the suspect's dignity and fundamental rights, and might result in a false confession. This was an important early acknowledgement that psychologically manipulative and deceptive interrogation techniques have the potential to cause false confessions to occur. This potential risk of false confessions occurring during custodial interrogation was extensively discussed in The Psychology of Interrogations, Confessions and Testimony (Gudjonsson, 1992a). Subsequently a number of American scientists have written extensively about the potential dangers of coercive interrogation techniques. These include Kassin (1998), Leo (1998, 2001a), Leo and Ofshe (1998a), McCann (1998), Ofshe and Leo (1997a, 1997b), Underwager and Wakefield (1992), Wakefield and Underwager (1998) and Wrightsman and Kassin (1993).

The opposing views of Zimbardo and the authors of police interrogation manuals are the result of looking at police interrogation from different perspectives. Police interrogation manuals base their techniques on instinctive judgements and experience, whilst psychologists such as Zimbardo view the recommended techniques within the framework of what is known in the literature about the psychology of attitudes, compliance and obedience. The fundamental problem is the lack of scientific research into the police interrogation process and the techniques utilized. Recent research in Britain and America into police interrogation techniques has significantly advanced our knowledge in this very important area. These studies will be discussed in this and subsequent chapters.


The 'Reid Technique' is described in detail by Inbau, Reid and Buckley (1986) and Inbau et al. (2001). The first edition to this manual was published by Inbau and Reid (1962). These authors had previously published similar books on interrogation under a different title (Inbau, 1942, 1948; Inbau & Reid, 1953). There was a second edition of the present book published in 1967 and the third edition, published in 1986 by Inbau, Reid and Buckley. The third edition gave the up-to-date state of the art of interrogation and introduced an important legal section and an appendix on the psychology of interrogation (Jayne, 1986). Important differences existed between the three editions, but the third edition was psychologically most sophisticated (Leo, 1992). It introduced a nine-step method aimed at breaking down the resistance of reluctant suspects and making them confess, referred to as the "Reid Technique". Inbau et al. (2001) have recently published a fourth edition of the book, which builds on the previous work of the authors, updates it and introduces new topics, such as false confessions, guidance to court room testimony and responses to defence experts' criticisms of their work.

In the introduction to their new book Inbau and his colleagues set out their working principles and disclaimer:

To protect ourselves from being misunderstood, we want to make it unmistakably clear that we are unalterably opposed to the so-called third degree, even on suspects whose guilt seems absolutely certain and who remain steadfast in their denials. Moreover, we are opposed to the use of any interrogation tactic or technique that is apt to make an innocent person confess. We are opposed, therefore, to the use of force, threats of force, or promises of leniency. We do approve, however, of psychological tactics and techniques that may involve trickery and deceit; they are not only helpful but frequently indispensable in order to secure incriminating information from the guilty or to obtain investigative leads from otherwise uncooperative witnesses or informants (Inbau et al., 2001, p. xii).

I have two comments to make on the above disclaimer. First, it seems rather half-hearted and defensive with regard to their approval of trickery and deceit. Their use of the word 'may' is misleading, because there is nothing 'may' about it. Their recommended tactics and techniques do involve trickery and deceit. It is an essential part of the Reid Technique, as will become evident from reading a description of their recommended techniques. Elsewhere two of the authors (Jayne & Buckley, 1991) go as far as to state that not only are trickery and deceit justified, they are 'absolutely essential in discovering the facts'. Second, the authors' reassurance that they disapprove of 'the use of force, threats of force, or promises of leniency', is not entirely correct when their techniques are carefully scrutinized. Admittedly, they do not recommend physical threats and force, but there is considerable psychological manipulation and pressure applied by the Reid Technique to break down resistance. This is perhaps best illustrated by their article in the Prosecutor (Jayne & Buckley, 1991), where the authors are more forthcoming about the nature of their techniques than in the more cautiously worded fourth edition of their book. For example, at one point in the article they imply, if not openly admit, the importance of uses of promises of leniency:

Because of this, after a suspect confesses-even though he or she acknowledges committing the crime-this suspect is likely to believe that because the crime was somewhat justified, or could have been much worse, he or she should receive some special consideration.

The basic assumptions made by Inbau and his colleagues are the following.

Many criminal investigations can only be solved by obtaining a confession.

Unless offenders are caught in the commission of a crime they will ordinarily not give a confession unless they are interrogated over an extended period of time in private, using persuasive techniques comprised of trickery, deceit and psychological manipulation.

To break down resistance interrogators will need to employ techniques which would in the eyes of the public normally be seen as unethical:

Of necessity, therefore, investigators must deal with criminal suspects on a somewhat lower moral plane than upon which ethical, law-abiding citizens are expected to conduct their everyday affairs (Inbau et al., 2001, p. xvi).

The Reid Technique is broadly based on two processes.

Breaking down denials and resistance.

Increasing the suspect's desire to confess.

Inbau et al. recommend that prior to the interrogation proper suspects are interviewed, preferably in a non-custodial setting where they do not have to be informed of their rights, in an informal way. The purpose of this non-accusatory interview is for the investigator to establish rapport and trust, trick the suspect into a false sense of security through malingered sincerity, gather detailed information about the suspect and his background, which can be used to break down resistance during subsequent interrogation, determining by observations of verbal and non-verbal signs whether or not the suspect is guilty, and offering the suspect the opportunity of telling the truth without confrontation. Once these objectives have been achieved, and the investigator is 'definite or reasonably certain' about the suspect's guilt, the interrogation proper commences. Inbau et al. recommend that the same investigator should ideally conduct both the interview and the interrogation.

During this pre-interrogation interview a polygraph examination may be conducted on the suspect. The results, if unfavourable, are then used to confront the suspect with his apparent lies and this often proves effective in eliciting confessions (Gudjonsson, 1992a).

Since the work of Inbau and his colleagues is very influential and commonly used by police and military interrogators, I shall review the Reid Technique in some detail.


Excerpted from The Psychology of Interrogations and Confessions by Gisli H. Gudjonsson Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

About the Author.

Series Preface.





Interrogation Tactics and Techniques.

Interrogation in Britain.

Persons at Risk During Interviews in Police Custody: the Royal Commission Studies.

The Identification and Measurement of 'Oppressive' Police Interviewing Tactics in Britain.

Why do Suspects Confess? Theories.

Why do Suspects Confess? Empirical Findings.

Miscarriages of Justice and False Confessions.

The Psychology of False Confession: Research and Theoretical Issues.

The Psychology of False Confession: Case Examples.


The English Law on Confessions.

The American Law on Confessions.

The Psychological Assessment.

Suggestibility: Historical and Theoretical Aspects.

Interrogative Suggestibility: Empirical Findings.


The Effects of Drugs and Alcohol Upon the Reliability of Testimony.

The Court of Appeal.

The 'Guildford Four' and the 'Birmingham Six'.

Psychological Vulnerability.

Police Impropriety.

Misleading Special Knowledge.


Four High Profile American Cases.

Canadian and Israeli Cases.

Murder in Norway: a False Belief Leading to a False Confession.




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