Examining layperson perceptions of police tactics in suspect interrogation

Han, Tianshuang (2021) Examining layperson perceptions of police tactics in suspect interrogation. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Layperson perceptions of the use of explicit and implicit promises of leniency in a suspect interrogation were examined. Undergraduate students (N = 290) were assigned randomly to read one of six police transcripts including either (1) no coercion, (2) explicit promise of leniency, or one of four minimization tactics implying a promise of leniency, (3) minimizing seriousness, (4) face-saving excuses, (5) downplaying consequences, or (6) emphasizing benefits of cooperation. Participants were then asked to indicate their sentencing expectations, estimate confession rates, rate their perceptions of the interrogation, rate the interrogator, and rate the level of coercion, and render a verdict. Results revealed that most participants chose to convict the suspect (81%), despite their belief that the suspect’s confession was coerced (80.2%). Most participants (95%) indicated that the interrogator promised leniency when explicit leniency was offered, however, few people detected leniency when minimizing seriousness (22.2%) and face-saving excuses (37.1%) were used. Explicit leniency and emphasizing benefits of cooperation were viewed more negatively overall, while face-saving excuses were viewed less negatively, with lower estimated confession rates, perceived pressure, eagerness to elicit a confession, and aggressiveness of the interrogator. The perceived strength of evidence and severity of the consequences were the highest when minimizing seriousness was used. Sentencing expectations were influenced by interrogation outcomes but not by tactic type. If the suspect denied involvement and was later convicted, participants expected the sentence to be greater than if the suspect confessed during the interrogation. Participants also estimated that more guilty suspects would confess than innocent suspects across tactic types. Overall, these findings reinforce past findings that confessions have strong evidentiary weight, and that confessions could influence potential jurors’ decision regardless of how they were obtained. Tactics involving minimizing seriousness and face-saving excuses put innocent suspects more at risk of wrongful convictions than others, likely because prospective jurors are less able to detect their coerciveness as much as that of explicit leniency and other types of minimization strategies. This research provided additional empirical evidence that jurors’ lay knowledge might not be able to evaluate confessions and expert testimony should be allowed to help them.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/15226
Item ID: 15226
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 34-41).
Keywords: police interview, minimization tactics, leniency, layperson perceptions
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Psychology
Science, Faculty of > Psychology
Date: July 2021
Date Type: Submission
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): https://doi.org/10.48336/0Z08-0669
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Police questioning--Public opinion; Interviewing in law enforcement.

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