Articulating guilt? The influence of guilt presumption on interviewer and interviewee behaviour

Nicole M. Adams-Quackenbush, Aldert Vrij, Robert Horselenberg, Liam P. Satchell, Peter van Koppen

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Research has repeatedly shown that accusatory questions posed during an investigative interview are indicative of biased beliefs about suspect guilt. Linguistic research has shown that the verbs used in utterances can be indicative of biased beliefs about another person. In the present study we examined question type and the verbs used in question formulation using non-police participants to explore the influence of guilt presumption on interview questions. In Study 1 we used the Linguistic Category Model (LCM; Semin and Fiedler European Review of Social Psychology, 2, 1–30, 1991) and in Study 2, the Question-Answer Paradigm (QAP; Semin et al. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21, 834–841, 1995) to analyse verb abstraction and positive/ negative valence of the formulated interview questions. We also explored whether interviewers’ guilt presumptions changed over the course of the interview as well as their motivations for creating the questions they chose to ask (Study 2). We found that participants who presumed guilt were more likely to formulate accusatory questions and use a higher verb abstraction with negative valence (Study 1 and 2). Interviewers asked more questions to gather additional information overall; however, the number of questions was negligible for trying to find support for alternative scenarios or to falsify existing guilt beliefs (Study 2). Interviewers who presumed guilt were also less likely to change their views during the interview and were more likely to report using behavioural cues to solidify their guilt presumptions (Study 2). The overall findings are in line with previous research in both guilt presumptive interviewing and linguistically biased language; however, we expanded on previous research by allowing participants to come to their own conclusions regarding guilt, as well as formulating their own questions for the suspect. Finally, we conclude that there are extensive limitations for using the LCM in applied interview settings and these are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
JournalCurrent Psychology
Early online date18 Apr 2020
Publication statusEarly online - 18 Apr 2020


  • guilt presumptions
  • interview questions
  • question types
  • linguistic category model
  • question-answer paradigm


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