Improving the comprehension of Canadian police cautions

Eastwood, Joseph (2011) Improving the comprehension of Canadian police cautions. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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In most English-speaking Western countries, individuals facing a police interview are presented with various legal rights through the delivery of a passage of text known as a police caution (or warning). Research has consistently shown that people struggle to fully understand the legal rights delivered through police cautions. The purpose of the current research was to improve the comprehension of Canadian police cautions by analyzing the cautions currently in use and identifying ways to alter their structure to increase comprehensibility. In Study 1, the complexity of 44 unique Canadian police cautions was assessed using five readability measures (Flesch-Kincaid reading level, sentence complexity, use of difficult words, use of infrequent words, and number of words). Results showed that seven (37%) of the right-to silence cautions (n=19) and none of the right-to-legal counsel cautions (n=25) reached acceptable cut-off levels for all t measures. In Study 2, participants (N=121) were presented with one of three cautions orally and asked to explain its meaning. Despite variations in complexity across the three cautions, participants understood approximately one-third of the information contained in the cautions. In Study 3, the extent to which modifying a police caution using three listenability factors (Instructions, Listing, and Explanation) improved comprehension was examined. Participants (N-60) were presented orally with one of eight cautions and asked to record their understanding of what they heard. Only the Explanations modification produced a significant effect, suggesting that repeating the information contained in the caution in different terms increased comprehension. Study 4 assessed the validity of the free recall measures used in the prior studies by presenting participants in one of three conditions (Created/Fully Modified caution, Calgary caution, Baseline/No caution) with an alternate free recall measure, true/false questions, and multiple-choice questions. Results from this study demonstrated the same, albeit smaller, effect as seen in free recall studies, and also identified several components of cautions that appear to be consistently misunderstood across all measures. The implications of this research for psychological research on comprehension of orally-delivered information are discussed, along with practical recommendations for improving the legal-counsel cautions currently used by Canadian police agencies.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
Item ID: 10457
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (leaves 121-131).
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Psychology
Science, Faculty of > Psychology
Date: 2011
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Interviewing in law enforcement--Technique; Listening comprehension; Police questioning--Canada.

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