He looks like your typical average guy
: eliciting person descriptions during frontline interviews

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The overarching aims of the current PhD thesis were to explore how person descriptions are obtained from witnesses during frontline police interviews, and to examine the effectiveness of information elicitation techniques in facilitating the reporting of person description information. Study 1 used body worn video footage to examine how person descriptions are elicited in real-world frontline police interviews. The results showed that over half of the person descriptions obtained by frontline police officers were inappropriate, with leading questions being the most commonly used question type. Appropriate questions (i.e. open questions) led to more person description information being provided (cf. inappropriate questions). Study 2 examined cross-race differences in the reporting of person description information using a mock witness paradigm. The results showed that white participants provided more person descriptors than black participants, but there was no own-race bias for the number of descriptors provided. However, an own-race bias was obtained for accuracy of person descriptors. Study 3 tested the effectiveness of using self-generated cues to facilitate the reporting of person descriptions in a single perpetrator event (Experiment 1) and an event involving multiple perpetrators (Experiment 2). The results of Experiments 1 and 2 showed that participants who used person description cues provided a higher number of person descriptors than participants who used self-generated cues or a free recall. However, participants who used self-generated cues were more accurate when providing person descriptors than those participants who used person description cues. The set of studies that form the current PhD thesis have contributed to the limited research that has examined how person descriptions are obtained and reported, specifically during the early stages of a criminal investigation. Throughout the PhD thesis, the theoretical implications for person recall and description are discussed, alongside avenues for future research and the practical implications for obtaining person description information.
Date of AwardAug 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorLorraine Hope (Supervisor) & Becky Milne (Supervisor)

Cite this