suggestibility – Critically evaluate the development
of psychological understanding of Interrogative suggestibility and its effect
upon police practice.
Interrogative Suggestibility has been
defined as an influence of one person to another person, often within a social
interaction of some sort where people come to accept an idea or message
communicated during formal questioning, it can also be a serious psychological
vulnerability during police interrogation (Gudjonsson 1989; Gudjonsson, 2003).
In result of this definition, five interrelated components of interrogative
suggestibility have been identified: (a) Suggestibility usually occurs within a
closed social interaction; (b) it includes a questioning process; (c) there is
a suggestive stimulus which generally takes the form of a “leading
question”; (d) an acceptance of suggestive stimulus is indicated; and (e)
It involves a behavioural response by the individual that lets the interviewer
know that the suggestive stimuli have been accepted.
The development of Gudjonsson’s Suggestibility
The first form of the GSS scale was
developed in 1984, this was then later followed by a parallel form of the scale
known as the GSS 2. Both scales are respectively similar to one another. There
is a fixed process to the GSS which is as follows: First, a fictional story is
read to defendant/witness. Immediately after the fictional story is recited,
the individual is then asked to recollect the key elements of the story
(without being prompted). Subsequently, the participant is then asked 20
questions (yes/no only) relating to details of the story. 15 of the follow-up
questions are misleading questions and the other five questions are non-leading
questions which are used to assess memory ability. The 15 misleading questions
are referred to as ‘Yield 1’. Roughly 50 minutes after the recall each
individual is then notified that they have made several errors regardless of
whether mistakes were in fact made and are permitted to go over the questions
once more and try to be more accurate, this is referred to as ‘shift score,
which is explained below. (Drake, 2010).
There are two obvious categories for
the scoring of Gudjonsson’s scale: suggestibility and memory recall. Memory
recall is the correct number of facts each participant remembered during
recall. As mentioned above there are 20 questions asked (15 misleading & 5
non-leading), Within the two main categories are subcategories- yield, shift
and total score. Yield is the number of questions that were suggestive which
were answered incorrectly (worth 15 points). Shift refers to any obvious change
in the interviewee’s answers after noted to go over their answers once again
and rectify them (also worth 15 points). Lastly, the total score is the total of
both Yield and Shift scores.
Interrogative suggestibility is
measured using the Gudjonsson Suggestibility Scale (GSS) and is widely used
within applied forensic science and academic settings. The purpose of the
development of the scale is to measure effectively the vulnerability of people
to be influenced suggestively and/or to give an inaccurate statement when being
interviewed (Gudjonsson, 1997). In addition, the GSS was developed to assess
whether a defendant or witness is susceptible to give way under pressure and to
perhaps shift from one response to a different response. The use of the GSS has
been effective in providing data to the court regarding an individual’s
predisposition to provide false information during interrogation. This is very
important when the trier of law is assessing one’s information as being
authentic and true. This measure also determines whether a defendant or witness
willingly accepted the Miranda rights waiver (Gudjonsson,1997).
Psychologists have taken I upon themselves to
assess whether Victims and witnesses are capable of giving evidence. Currently,
in England, witness mental capacity can be regarded in the context of two
permissible frameworks: Part 1, the principles of the Mental Capacity Act 2005
and Section 53 of the Youth and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. Both acts are
relevant when it comes to giving valid and reliable evidence during interviews.
Part 1 of the mental act 2005 primarily focuses on the lack of witness/victim
capacity and that each individual must be assumed to have the mental capacity
and make decisions unless proven otherwise. The latter of the two applies to
those of any age, including very young children. Section 53 (Subsection 3) of
the Youth and Criminal Evidence act 1999 draws upon competence and being able
to give evidence in court proceedings. Furthermore, if a person is unable to
understand and answer questions put before them by the court, then they may be
deemed as lacking capacity and unfit to give evidence in legal proceedings.
When interviewing defendants police
officers will need to be made aware of each suspect psychological vulnerability
which may in some cases render the suspects information unreliable or
misleading (Gudjonsson, 2003). Four main categories for the assessment of
psychological vulnerabilities have been identified as; (a) Mental illness (b)
abnormal mental state (c) cognitive functioning and (d) personality traits.
These have been categorized in the table below.
monitoring-being able to distinguish between memories for events that have
happened and events that have been imagined by the interviewee.
reduced Intellectual capacity
ability to recall memories
understanding of their rights as a suspect
and acceptance without protest, and the act of giving tacit assent.
to understand the implications of their given answers
to compulsively lie
tendency to fabricate memories
for being well-known (notoriety)
sympathy for the consequences of falsifying statements.
It is clear that there are limited
studies published regarding the estimated rate of recurrence of false
confessions. The literature surrounding false confessions have established that
the problem exists, however it is rather difficult to put a precise number on
police-induced false confessions as research has found (Cassell, 1998). If we
are ignorant towards those with truthful confessions, it is possible that
because of interrogation regulations guilty convicts may be released. This may
lead to further crimes being committed, it may also pose a risk to those who
Some people are more dispositional
vulnerable than others, meaning they are at a higher risk for false
confessions. Going back to the GSS scale, the individuals who are susceptible
to suggestibility, where their memories may become altered by deceptive
questions and adverse feedback could possibly become influenced. In addition,
individuals with compliant personalities in social situations are vulnerable
because they possess certain traits where they may be eager to please others.
Furthermore, People who are usually apprehensive, stressed or fearful, and
people who have other psychological issues are predominantly prone to confess
to feeling pressured (Gudjonsson, 2003).
Justice system & police practice
Police become fervently committed to a
preconceived notion that the suspect is guilty, or so reliant on their methods
of interrogation that they may unknowingly extract an untrue confession from an
innocent person. Even if the evidence verifies the innocence of the suspect, it
is rare that police will admit that they have extracted a fake confession.
Common law jurisdiction protects citizens during police interrogations,
however, it only places a minimal restriction on law enforcement officers. The
development of the Miranda v Arizona (1966) rights brought the decision that
police officers must read suspects their rights as a citizen during interrogation,
the Miranda waiver also prevents police from making threats, promises or using
physical abuse (Meyer & Reppucci, 2007). However, stated by Leo (as cited
in Meyer & Reppucci, 2007) these practices do not stop officers from using
more subtle techniques in the interrogation room such as coercion, deceit, and
In the Miranda v. Arizona (1966) the
U.S Supreme court ruled that unless the police provided suspects with the four
Miranda warnings then any statements formed during custodial interrogation will
be inadmissible and presumed involuntary by the court. These rights include;
The right to remain silent, any statements may be used against them in a court
of law, the right to an attorney before and during interrogation, and the right
to a free attorney if the individual cannot afford one. Each suspect may waiver
the rights to silence and an attorney willingly and voluntarily.
Grisso (as cited in Douglas, 2010) brings to
light the establishment that adults and adolescent’s suspects in custody have
the right to avoid self-incrimination with a legal personnel present during
questioning. Although in the ‘post-DNA’ world it is harder to falsify
confessions or coerce suspects, although it is not unheard of.
There is an increasing dependence on
the use of expert testimony within the courts in the UK. Is this beneficial to
the criminal justice administration? One important debate is that psychological
evidence provides the court with data which may help them make decisions in the
court and perhaps prevent wrongful convictions. On the other hand, the
administration of justice may become dependent on expert psychological evidence
that the Courts may then be tempted to discover psychological vulnerabilities
for the defence in the current setting, which may result in defendants who are
in fact guilty being cleared by the courts. Without overgeneralisation from the
evidence, this can be avoided and criminals would be properly convicted
(Gudjonsson & MacKeith, 1997).
It is difficult to comprehend having
to spend time in jail for a crime one did not commit.
There is no doubt about the fact that
in order to avoid false confessions and unreliable testimonies, it is important
to determine psychological vulnerabilities and mental disorders prior to court
proceedings. However, there is a risk that legal professionals may misuse
psychological testimony. This may result in perverting the course of justice if
psychological vulnerabilities have emerged. Even if some suspects present
psychological and mental disorders, this may not be pertinent to the reasons
for the confession of the suspect (Gudjonsson & MacKeith, 1997).