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Detecting bias in police interviews with suspects: A linguistic approach

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Nicole Adams-QuackenbushORCiD


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Research has demonstrated that interviewer beliefs about a suspect’s guilt can initiate a cycle of confirmation bias. This occurs when the behaviour and responses of the suspect are interpreted by the interviewer as endorsing their beliefs. Research has also shown that accusatory questions during an investigative interview are indicative of biased beliefs about a suspect’s guilt. This study aims to investigate how confirmation bias presents in linguistic behaviour during the investigative interview. We use the Linguistic Category Model (Semin & Feidler, 1991) and the Question-Answer Paradigm (Semin et al., 1995) to analyse questions asked over 17 interviews with a murder suspect. If confirmation bias is present, we expect it will emerge through question type (i.e., accusatory questions), and verb abstraction (i.e., high levels of abstraction). Moreover, we expect the verb choices of the questions will prompt the suspect to focus on themselves in their responses. We will discuss our findings, decisions made by the court in this case, and implications for interviewer training and development.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Adams-Quackenbush NM, Horselenberg R, Vrij A, van Koppen PJ

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Published

Conference Name: International Investigative Interviewing Research Group (iIIRG) Conference

Year of Conference: 2018

Online publication date: 01/06/2018

Acceptance date: 19/02/2018

Publisher: Portugese Catholic University