Memory-based lie detection in repeated interviews
: the importance of early use of mnemonics

  • Aleksandras Izotovas

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The aim of this thesis was to examine how different memory-enhancing (mnemonic) techniques used in an interview carried out immediately after an event affected truth tellers’ and liars’ responses in the immediate interview and also in a delayed interview. In Studies I-III participants took part in a specific mock intelligence scenario in which they were asked to take the role of an intelligence officer. They were shown a mock intelligence operation video of a secret break-in to an apartment. Participants were instructed either to tell the truth or lie about its contents in two interviews, one of which was immediately after watching the video and the other after an approximately two-week delay. The amount of visual, spatial, temporal, and action details, and between-statement consistency characteristics between the two interviews (reminiscences, repetitions, and omissions) in truth tellers’ and liars’ responses were analysed.
In Study I (N = 143), three mnemonic techniques were tested: Context reinstatement, Sketch, and Event-line. In the immediate interview, participants were asked to provide a free recall and then asked to give further information via one of these three mnemonics. In the delayed interview, they were only asked to provide a free recall. Truth tellers reported more visual, spatial, temporal, and action details in the immediate and delayed interviews, regardless of which mnemonic technique was used. Truth tellers experienced more of a decline in reporting details after a delay than liars, thus showing more than liars, patterns of reporting indicative of genuine memory decay. Truth tellers and liars did not differ in terms of between-statement consistency.
In Study II (N = 49), the effects of the Sketch mnemonic on truth tellers’ and liars’ immediate and delayed responses were examined. Unlike Study I, in this experiment a free recall phase was not included in the immediate interview. Participants were only asked to draw a sketch of the apartment of the break-in, and to describe that sketch. In the immediate interviews, truth tellers reported more visual, spatial, temporal, and action details than liars. In the delayed interviews, truth tellers reported more spatial, temporal, and action details than liars. Truth tellers and liars reported a similar number of visual details in the delayed interviews. As in Study I, truth tellers more than liars, showed patterns indicative of genuine memory decay. Between-statement consistency did not differ between veracity groups.
In Study III (N = 80), the effects of different interviewing techniques used in the immediate interview on truth tellers’ and liars’ delayed responses were examined. In the immediate interview participants were instructed either to report everything they remembered, or asked open-ended spatial questions related to the event. In the delayed interview all participants were asked to report everything they could remember. Truth tellers reported more visual, spatial, temporal and action details than liars, both immediately and after a delay, regardless of the interview technique used in the immediate interview. However, in the immediate interview the differences between truth tellers and liars were larger using the report everything mnemonic than using the spatial questions. Regarding between-statement consistency, truth tellers provided more reminiscences and repetitions and made fewer omissions than liars.
In Study IV (N = 96), participants read the immediate and delayed statements from Study I and were asked to make veracity judgements. One group of participants was informed about the findings of Study I, and instructed to rely on these findings when making their veracity judgements. The other group was not informed about the findings of Study I. Results showed that deception detection accuracy did not differ between the informed and uninformed groups. In addition, the majority of participants in both conditions based their decisions on unreliable cues to truth/deceit.
The results of this thesis demonstrate that the way an interview immediately after an event is carried has an effect on later interviews, when it comes to discriminating between truthful and deceptive accounts. Practitioners need to be aware that it is important to conduct the first interview as soon as possible after an incident, and to use interview techniques that enhance complete statements from the interviewee in order to effectively detect deception in the further stages of the investigation.
Date of AwardMay 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SponsorsUniversity of Gothenborg & House of Legal Psychology, Erasmus Mundus Joint Doctorate Programme
SupervisorAldert Vrij (Supervisor), Lorraine Hope (Supervisor) & Sam Mann (Supervisor)

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