Skip to main content

Interviewing Guilty Suspects


THESIS: An important focus within Legal Psychology is to establish empirically tested, non-coercive, ethical investigative interviewing techniques.

For more than a decade, researchers and practitioners have strived to develop interviewing techniques that focus on information and evidence gathering approaches to elicit reliable and effective interview outcomes from suspects.

One such interviewing technique is the Strategic Use of Evidence (SUE) technique. The SUE technique is empirically established as an interviewing technique to elicit cues to deception that aid with gathering reliable information. The technique relies on available evidence or information about the suspect’s involvement in a crime to gather new information or to elicit verbal cues to deceit.

The idea behind this thesis was to understand what determines various suspect behaviors in an investigative interview. Mainly, the idea was to test interviewing tactics within the SUE framework to understand how guilty suspects assess revealing crime-related information if they believe that the information will not incriminate them. The thesis has also explored interviewing tactics beyond the use of evidence to explore how the content of questions influences the inferences guilty suspects draw regarding how much evidence or prior information the interviewer might hold.

There are two main contributions of this thesis to the psycho-legal literature. First, there is now new evidence that guilty suspects engage in more complex decision-making process than what was understood before. They assess risks of disclosing different pieces of crime-related information actively during the interview and make decisions regarding what information to reveal and conceal in order to maintain an impression of being innocent or cooperative and forthcoming with the interviewer. Second, the research also suggests that guilty suspects can be influenced by the mere content of questions to make inferences regarding the evidence or prior information held by the interviewer against them.

The findings from this thesis could have important practical implications. Since we now know that guilty suspects assess the costs of disclosing crime-related information, interviewers can collect a large amount of what would be considered non-incriminating information from the suspect and then suddenly switch to more critical questions. To maintain the impression of innocence and cooperativeness created by the suspect the suspect might find it difficult to switch from being highly forthcoming to withholding or avoiding giving any information. This could lead the suspect into revealing more critical crime-related information at a later point in the interview. Also collecting non-incriminating crime-related information could aid the investigation process by linking the suspect to the crime and possibly helping with finding incriminating evidence. In situations where existing evidence or prior information can’t be used, or when the interviewers lack evidence, influencing suspects’ inferences through question content could prove helpful to gather critical information from the suspects.

Thesis: Determinants of Guilty Suspects’ Behavior in Investigative Interviews. Evidence-Disclosure Tactics and Question Content
Author: Meghana Srivatsav,
Dissertation: October 11, 2019
Venue: Department of Psychology, Haraldsgatan 1, Göteborg. Hall: F1

Text: Meghana Srivatsav
Picture: Meghana Srivatsav, PhD student/author and Timothy Luke, supervisor, at the "nailing" of the thesis in Vasaparken, main building