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How do the questions asked affect suspects' perceptions of the interviewer's prior knowledge?

Journal article
Authors Meghana Srivatsav
Timothy Luke
Pär-Anders Granhag
A. Vrij
Published in Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling
Volume 17
Issue 2
Pages 160-172
ISSN 1544-4759
Publication year 2020
Published at Department of Psychology
Pages 160-172
Language en
Keywords interviewing guilty suspects, investigative questions, police, interviewing, relevance theory, suspects' inferences, Criminology & Penology, Psychology
Subject categories Psychology


The aim of this study was to understand if guilty suspects' perceptions regarding the prior information or evidence held by the interviewer against the suspect could be influenced through the content of the investigative questions. To test this idea, we explored three question-phrasing factors that we labeled as topic discussion (if a specific crime-related topic was discussed or not), specificity (different levels of crime-related details included in the questions), and stressor (emphasis on the importance of the specific crime-related detail in the questions). The three factors were chosen based on relevance theory, a psycholinguistic theory that explores how people draw inferences from the communicated content. Participants (N = 370) assumed the role of the suspect and read a crime narrative and an interview transcript based on the suspect's activities. After reading the narrative and the transcripts, participants responded to scales that measured their perception of interviewer's prior knowledge (perceived interviewer knowledge [PIK]) regarding the suspects' role in the crime, based on the questions posed by the interviewer in the transcripts. Of the three factors tested, we found that questioning about a specific crime-related topic (topic discussion) increased their PIK. This study is the first to explore the underlying mechanisms of how suspects draw inferences regarding the interviewer's prior knowledge through the content of the investigative questions adopting concepts of psycholinguistic theory.

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