What’s the room got to do with it?
examining the influence of environmental aspects in investigative interviews

  • Katherine Hoogesteyn

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The foremost goal in all investigative interviews is to elicit a complete and accurate account from interviewees. To achieve this, psycholegal research has provided investigators with a plethora of recommended tactics for creating an atmosphere that promotes the disclosure of information (e.g., through rapportbuilding; Abbe & Brandon, 2013), as well as optimal information-gathering questioning tactics (e.g., open-ended, non-suggestive questions; Clarke & Milne, 2001). While most of the literature on maximizing information disclosure has focused on the verbal and non-verbal communication between investigator and interviewee, little research has examined how the environment in which the interview occurs may help in eliciting information. The overarching aim of this thesis is to examine potential environmental influences on two key elements of investigative interviews (i.e., rapport-building and information disclosure), as well as explore overall perceptions about police interview environments from a variety of populations (i.e., general population, current detainees, and police investigators). Specifically, across two experimental studies and two surveys, we examined whether an interview’s environment could influence an interviewee’s disclosure of information and perceptions of rapport-building. First, we examined physical spaciousness. In an experimental study, participants engaged in a virtual reality (VR) scenario depicting a crime and were interviewed as suspects in either a larger or smaller room, at a closer or longer distance. We found no links between room size and sitting distance on disclosure quantity or quality. However, participants interviewed in the larger room reported a more positive interview experience in terms of spaciousness, which consequently led to higher perceptions of rapport, compared to those interviewed in the smaller room (Chapter 2: The Influence of Room Spaciousness on Investigative Interviews). We also examined different interview locations for a witness interview context. Participants experienced a VR mock crime, and one week later were interviewed in either their own homes – expected to elicit higher comfort – or in a formal room akin to a real-world police interview room. While participants in the home interview setting reported feeling more at ease and in control, we found no differences between interview location on the quantity and quality of information disclosure or participants’ perceptions of rapport-building (Chapter 3: Examining Witness Interviewing Environments). Next, we were interested in exploring individuals’ thoughts and expectations regarding police interview rooms. While previous studies have suggested that a room made to be ‘nice’ and comfortable may be optimal for interviewing suspects, another study found it can instead lead to higher suspicion of the investigator’s intentions. Therefore, we conducted a survey with current detainees and individuals from the general population who provided descriptive information about their preferences and expectations of police interview environments and compared photos of two rooms; bone which resembled a “typical” interview room, and one decorated to be warm, inviting and comfortable. Overall, detainees and general population individuals reported expecting to be interviewed in the “typical” room, but to prefer the decorated one. The decorated room elicited more positive feelings of ease and comfort, and lower feelings of suspicion than the “typical” room (Chapter 4: Detainee and General Populations’ Thoughts on Police Interview Rooms). Further, to gain a more complete understanding of how contextual techniques are employed by practitioners in the field, we gathered police interviewers’ thoughts and knowledge about context (i.e. environmental related interviewing tactics) through an international survey. A sample of 81 police investigators completed the survey. Our findings provided evidence that investigators believe the interview setting to have importance, and investigators reported to already be employing some context manipulation techniques, particularly related to seating arrangement, investigators’ clothing, and item availability for suspects (e.g., water, cigarettes). The findings from this survey demonstrated the need for future research to explore the influence of context on investigative interviews, especially as it is already recognised by investigators (Chapter 5: Utility and Effectiveness of the Context Manipulation Techniques: Police Investigators’ Perspectives). Lastly, in the General Discussion (Chapter 6), we summarize this thesis’ key findings, presenting the challenges as well as suggestions for future research on investigative interviewing environments. We hope that this body of work serves as a foundation for future research in this limited, yet very practical aspect of interviewing practice.
Date of AwardSept 2019
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorAldert Vrij (Supervisor), Sam Mann (Supervisor), Zarah Vernham (Supervisor), Ewout H. Meijer (Supervisor) & Corine De Ruiter (Supervisor)

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