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Eliciting information from human sources: Training handlers in the Scharff technique

Journal article
Authors Simon Oleszkiewicz
Pär-Anders Granhag
Steven M. Kleinman
Published in Legal and Criminological Psychology
Volume 22
Issue 2
Pages 400-419
ISSN 1355-3259
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Psychology
Pages 400-419
Language en
Links doi.org/10.1111/lcrp.12108
Keywords Handlers, Human intelligence gathering, Informants, The Scharff technique, Training study
Subject categories Psychology

Abstract

Purpose: In previous laboratory-based work, the Scharff technique has proved successful for gathering intelligence from human sources. However, little is known about whether the technique can be taught to practitioners, and whether Scharff-trained practitioners will interview more effectively than colleagues using their conventional approaches and tactics. Method: We examined professional handlers from the Norwegian Police (n = 64), all experienced in interacting with informants. Half received training in the Scharff technique, and their performance was compared against handlers receiving no Scharff training and free to use the approaches they saw fit. All handlers received the same case file describing a source holding information about a future terrorist attack and were given the same interview objectives. Police trainees (n = 64) took on the role of semicooperative sources and were given incomplete information about the attack. Results: The trained handlers adhered to the Scharff training as they (1) aimed to establish the illusion of 'knowing-it-all', (2) posed claims to collect information, and (3) asked few (if any) explicit questions. In contrast, the untrained handlers tried to evoke the sources' motivation to reveal information and asked a high number of explicit questions. Scharff-trained handlers were perceived as less eager to gather information, but collected comparatively more new information. Conclusions: The Scharff-trained interviewers utilized more specific elicitation tactics (e.g., posing claims) and fewer general interview strategies (e.g., evoking motivation), and they collected comparatively more new information. This captures the essence of the Scharff technique: It is subtle, yet effective.

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