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|News › How Reliable are Sasquatch Databases?|
How Reliable are Sasquatch Databases?
How Reliable are Sasquatch Databases?
A Review of Literature on Witness Interviewing
By Mark Banta
When investigating a reported sasquatch sighting, a researcher interviews the witness and forms an opinion on whether they feel the witness is being truthful or not. Most research groups depend on this opinion in making a determination on whether or not to add the sighting to a database and/or release it to the public. The obvious question in this scenario is: how accurate is this researcher’s opinion? If the researcher can determine with a high level of accuracy the validity of the claim, then the database may well provide information germane to the field of sasquatch research. However, if the level of accuracy falls more in the realm of chance, the database becomes highly corrupted and of little value.
It is important to consider this quandary from an empirical perspective. The fields of law enforcement and psychology offer an empirical basis from which to form an educated perspective. The purpose of this review is to examine the empirical studies provided by these fields in regards to witness interviewing and examine how it relates to the field of sasquatch research.
From a layman’s perspective, law enforcement and psychology are not interrelated. However, upon closer examination, a relationship exists and continues to grow as more psychologists and criminologists research best practices in witness interviewing. Furthermore, the field of forensic psychology has become a hybrid of both disciplines, and has been instrumental in establishing a dialogue between the two. Kocsis (2006) commented that forensic psychology can be conceived of as being at a disciplinary crossroads between the practice of psychology and law. According to Kocsis “This conceptualization predominantly encapsulates activities where psychologists operate within the legal system (both criminal and civil) for the purpose of undertaking various psychological assessments of a client and then presenting these findings for consideration in the context of legal proceedings” (p. 727).
Purpose of Review
The focus of this literature review is to explore the different interviewing strategies adopted by both law enforcement and psychology and describe best practices per empirical data. In doing so, a determination as to the accuracy of sasquatch researchers, and thus sasquatch databases can be determined beyond mere conjecture. Also, best practices will be reviewed as to the most accurate form of interviewing a witness to procure accurate and meaningful data.
Defining the Cognitive Interview
A relatively new and successful form of witness interviewing has been created within the realm of forensic psychology. It is known as the cognitive interview (CI). The CI is named such because it consists of four cognitively based memory retrieval enhancement techniques (Aldridge, 1999). These techniques include context reinstatement, free recall, recall in different orders, and recall from different views and perspectives.
According to Aldridge (1999), during the context reinstatement portion of the interview, the witness is asked to form a mental image of the environment. This should include the location, where subjects were, and what he or she was feeling and thinking at the time of the event. The witness should be encouraged to recall sensory information such as noises, smells, and temperature, as well (p. 106).
The interviewer also encourages the witness to report everything, even if they think the information is not important or pertinent. Eyewitnesses may not know what is relevant to an investigation. Also, irrelevant information may lead to the recall of partial or more relevant information (p. 107).
Next the witness is asked to try and recall the event in a variety of ways and orders. Most witnesses tend to recall information in chronological order. In the CI, the witness is encouraged to recall information in reverse order as well. The witness may also start from the middle and work towards the end or go from middle and work towards the beginning (p. 107).
Last, the witness is encouraged by the interviewer to recall information from a variety of views and perspectives. The subject is asked what other people present could have seen or heard from their perspective. They are also asked to consider how the event would appear from different points of view and different perspectives (p. 107).
The CI has become an investigative tool for police agencies around the world. Some suggest that these techniques are incorrectly used in the field (Alison & Howard, 2005). “Field studies suggest that investigators tend to make several common mistakes. These include interrupting the interviewee, monopolizing on the amount of time spent talking, asking leading and/or closed questions, and making assumptions about the interviewee’s claims” (p. 116).
The efficacy of the CI has been demonstrated, starting with the earliest research (see Geiselman, Fisher, MacKinnon, & Holland, 1985). Stein and Memon (2006) concluded that CI techniques demonstrated significant increases in the number of correct details reported by witnesses. Geiselman, et al. (1985) compared the CI to hypnotic techniques of memory retrieval. Their results indicated equally effective outcomes and suggested a preference for the CI because training time and instructions were less time consuming.
Forensic Psychology Strategies
The focus of a forensic psychology often differs from that of law enforcement as a whole. A forensic psychologist’s main purpose is to elicit the most accurate information from witnesses. The CI is a common tool for the forensic psychologist. The CI is one of the most exciting developments in forensic psychology in the last 20 years (Stein & Memon, 2006). “To date, some 65 empirical studies of CI have been conducted” (Stein & Memon, 2006, p. 597). The CI interviewer asks the witness to recall information in a variety of orders. Whenever possible, interviewers use open ended questions. Interviewees are encouraged to close their eyes and narrate the imagery in a much detail as possible (Shepard, Mortimer, & Turner, 1999).
Cognitive interviewing has started to be used for a variety of purposes. Survey researchers are developing a growing interest in CI strategies to obtain accurate information (e.g., McColl, 2006). CI has also proven useful in dealing with respondents with differing conceptual and linguistic abilities and reducing error in estimates with poorer, less educated subpopulations (Miller, 2003).
CI has also been studied in research for dealing with special needs persons (e.g., Shepard, et al., 1999; Aldridge, 1999; Milne & Bull, 2001; Brodsky & Bennett, 2005; Thompson, Reuland, & Souweine, 2003). These special needs persons include children, those with learning disabilities, the mentally retarded, and the mental ill.
Cognitive Interviewing in the Law Enforcement Community
The advent of CI by the psychological community (forensic psychology) has led to a widening of its use within the law enforcement community. A critical component of police investigators is to obtain accurate and detailed information from eyewitnesses (MacKinnon, O’Reilly, & Geiselman, 1990). The use of CI within the law enforcement community is a positive step, but much training is still needed. Alison & Howard (2005) looked into the use of CI with law enforcement and found that the techniques were not being properly used. Rather, they found a hybrid version of CI combined with more traditional interrogation practices. They concluded that ‘Police appear to be focused on the collection of evidence, rather than strictly obtaining a confession or searching for the truth’ (p. 134).
Another study conducted with Canadian police found that officers first “help” the witness construct the event and then, through rapid sequences of questions, seek to confirm the account (Wright & Alison, 2004). They argued that police officers are pursuing an assumed version of events and that using interviews in a sequencing perspective may prove beneficial in identifying biased versions of events. MacKinnon, et al. (1990) studied recall of license plates and found that CI strategies significantly increased the amount of correct information.
Dangers of Interrogation and Cognitive Interviewing
The Danger of False Confession
The advent of DNA procedures has led to conclusive evidence that some innocent people are convicted of crimes. A contributing factor to false convictions is false confessions. Research into false convictions show that false confessions account for 14% to 24% of these cases (DeClue, 2004). Researchers have been studying this phenomenon to discover the source of such false confessions (e.g., Bering & Shackelford, 2005; Horselberg, Merckelbach, Smeets, Franssens, Peters, & Zeles, 2006).
Research has led to three types of classifications explaining why false confession occurs (Horselberg, et al., 2006). First, some confess falsely to protect a significant other or for notoriety. These are considered voluntary confessions. A second type of false confession is caused by pressure from either the police during interrogation or an outside party. A third type is a confession made by suspects who actually come to believe they are guilty (p. 62).
Bering and Shackelford (2005) pointed to evolutionary psychology for the answer as to why false confessions occur. They comment that evolutionary psychology predicts that people seek confidantes like family members when under stress. They seek allies to come to their aide, but this is impossible in the confines of an interrogation room. Investigators may parasitize this evolved heuristic by adopting a familiar or familial role (caring for the suspect). This in turn leads to false confession.
The Danger of False Memory
The danger of eliciting a false memory extends beyond the law enforcement community into the realms of psychology. Confirmatory feedback is commonly used in forensic interviews to elicit cooperation and set the witness at ease (Zaragoza, Payment, & Ackil, (2001). This can occur when police reinforce witnesses that provide information consistent with the interviewer’s beliefs, but can also occur when forensic psychologists use improper CI techniques and introduce bias feedback into the interview.
Zaragoza, et al., (2001) conducted an experiment on 98 undergraduate participants. They were divided into two groups. One group was forced to answer questions about a video clip, even if they didn’t know the answer. Subsequent interviews 4 to 6 weeks later showed that some participants remembered providing the confabulated items as responses, but didn’t remember they had fabricated them.
Interviewing Special Needs Persons
Cognitive interviewing is especially beneficial when working with special needs persons. For example, when used with children, CI demonstrated its usefulness by producing 20% to 35% more effectiveness than the standard interview (Aldridge, 1999). As Aldridge pointed out, one danger is that “the cognitive interview may have negative effects by directing the child to recall highly emotional and traumatic experiences”. However, she concluded, “a goal in therapy and the recovery process for victims of maltreatment is to process and transform the traumatic memory into a healthier ordinary memory” (p. 122).
Another special needs subpopulation is the learning disabled. The criminal justice system has traditionally regarded people with learning disabilities (LD’s) as unreliable witnesses. Milne and Bull (2001) concluded that CI techniques, if used appropriately, can produce accurate reports from people with LD’s. The mentally retarded also need special attention when considering interviewing strategies. They are more susceptible than other populations to making false confessions when leading questions and interrogative pressure is applied (Brodsky & Bennett, 2005).
The mentally ill are a subpopulation that spans both the mental health field and the criminal justice community. There is bipartisan agreement between both fields that improved responses are needed (Thompson, Reuland, & Souweine, 2003). By assuring availability of services, the mental health system could likely prevent many people with mental illness from coming in contact with the criminal justice system. Officers need special training in how to respond to incidents involving the mentally ill. Thompson, et al. (2003) state that law enforcement are frustrated that their current responses to people with mental illness are failing, especially when you consider the thousands of hours each year spent responding to people with mental illness. These issues further illustrate the conjoined nature of psychology and law enforcement, as well as the need for a bipartisan effort. Cooperation benefits both communities and leads to better treatment and services for the mentally ill.
Needed Changes in Forensic Psychology and Law Enforcement
As stated previously, the danger of implanting false memories when using CI techniques is real and therapists and mental health professionals need to be aware of the dangers. Such claims of recovered memories are hard to prove in court. Judges and juries must consider how the trauma was forgotten, as well as whether the claim originated in a therapeutic setting. In addition, Judges and juries must contend with a mixed amount of empirical evidence (Alison, Kebbell, & Lewis, 2006). The use of CI techniques in forensic psychology has the potential of eliminating such concerns when applied appropriately.
More study is needed into the effects of repeated measurement on data quality. Some researchers have pointed out that repeated measures, such is often used in the fields of criminal justice and forensic psychology, can bias the data collection (see Van Der Zouwen & Van Tilberg, 2001). For example, a respondent that has been previously interviewed or interrogated by the police, might remember the answers he or she gave in the first interview and repeat this answer, whether correct or not. When working in conjunction with law enforcement these situations must be taken into consideration.
Kassin (2005) asked police officers if they were concerned about false confessions. The most common response he received was no, because they do not interrogate innocent people. He notes that to understand this remark, you must know that the interrogation process is preceded by a neutral, information-gathering interview structured to determine if the suspect is innocent or guilty. The problem, as already noted, is that police officers are not very good at determining who is lying and who is telling the truth (see Ekman & O’Sullivan, 1991; Garrido et al., 2004; Vrij et al., 2001; Elaad, 2003). In fact, most police officers do not score above the probability of chance when determining truth from deception in high and low stake situations. Kassin (2005) went on to say “However, a warehouse of psychological research suggests that once people form an impression, they unwittingly seek, interpret, and create behavioral data that verify it” (p. 219).
This vast amount of research has led to suggestions on how law enforcement can improve upon the areas of detecting deceit. Vrij, Edward, and Bull (2001) concluded that the use of indirect methods might be useful for police officers when they attempt to detect deceit. In their study, police officers watched and reported a number of nonverbal gestures. They showed an increase in accuracy of .36 on a 7-point scale. Vrij et al., (2001) conceded that in a real life situation, police officers might unconsciously or consciously be guided by other techniques of detecting deception and nullify the benefit of the indirect measure. Vrij (1994) conducted an experiment on the detection of deception. In one condition, the participants only kept track of hand movements. Those telling the truth used more hand gestures than the liars. By using this technique alone, the participants were able to detect deception at a 60% accuracy rating. These results may not seem impressive, but in comparisons with the vast amount of research in this area, 60% is among the top.
Education for police officers about schemata could also benefit the law enforcement field. Some evidence suggests that people overestimate their ability to detect deception and rely on body language that does not apply in all situations (see Lakhani & Taylor (2003). Challenging these assumptions through education and continued education could prove beneficial. Feedback on the accuracy of deceit judgments could also benefit investigators (Zuckerman, Koestner, & Alton, 1984).
Researchers continue to study the ability of police officers to detect deception. Among them, Aldert Vrij has produced a vast amount of research (e.g., Vrij, 1994; Vrij, 2000; Vrij & Mann, 2001; Vrij et al., 2001). Some have criticized him, stating that his focus on deception is rather narrow, but the plethora of research he has produced has helped lay a foundation of empirical evidence that is leading to an increased focus on alternative interviewing styles, such as cognitive interviewing.
Psychology and Law Enforcement are intrinsically bound together. Researchers in both fields are constantly working to improve practices. Research has shown that Cognitive Interview strategies have a place in both forensic psychology and interviewing witnesses who have witnessed crimes.
Empirical evidence has shown that standard police interviewing and interrogation strategies can lead to false confessions. The evidence also shows that current strategies for detecting deception are largely ineffective.
Cognitive interviewing has been shown to be of help in interviewing special needs clients. Children, developmentally disabled, and the mentally retarded respond particularly well to these strategies. Persons who have experienced traumatic events also benefit from CI, but a risk of being re-traumatized does exist.
Continued training of law enforcement officers is needed. They need to be trained not only to detect deceit, but also to detect the truth. Interviewing strategies need to be modified and implemented to reduce the number of false convictions and improve the accuracy of litigations.
Forensic psychologists need to be trained to perform cognitive interviewing in an appropriate manner to avoid the possibility of inducing false memories. Further, psychologists need to be aware of the affects of multiple interviewing and the outcomes that can result from reactivity.
Implications on Sasquatch Research
Coming back now to the field of sasquatch research, what conclusions can be drawn from the fields of law enforcement and psychology in regards to witness interviewing? First, determining the accuracy of witness testimony rarely can be determined beyond the level of chance. Considering this empirical fact, the odds of compiling a meaningful database appears bleak at best. Some may read this review and point to research that claims there are “wizards” within the law enforcement community that can detect deception at a very high level of accuracy (see, O’Sullivan & Ekman, 2004). Similarly, there are those within the field of sasquatch research that have made these same claims. However, the existence of wizards is still very much a controversy and lacks empirical backing (see, O’Sullivan, 2007 and Bond & Uysal, 2007).
The short and simple is that the opinion rendered on the accuracy of witness testimony, whether conducted by law enforcement officers, psychologists, or sasquatch researchers, is simply an opinion and has relatively no validity. However, there is some hope to improve this level of validity when the appropriate interviewing techniques are employed.
At this time, it appears that cognitive interviewing holds the most promise in all fields related to obtaining accurate witness testimony. Groups, individuals, and organizations devoted to obtaining the most accurate data should begin to explore the intricacies of CI. The development of set standards and training are needed in the field of sasquatch research. However, it is important to note that these techniques have been made standard procedure in some law enforcement agencies, and accuracy still fails to reach levels of significance (see, Alison & Howard, 2005).
Based on this information, leaders in the sasquatch community may want to consider a change in focus as to when it is appropriate to include an eye witness report in their database. As it stands, most reports are considered worthy of publication or inclusion based on whether the witness is deemed credible. The problem with this, as has been noted, is that the data is not credible, no matter how confident the investigator is in the reliability of the witness. A more accurate stance may be to only include reports when the witness is both deemed credible and the location of the sighting reveals evidence such as tracks. By corroborating witness stories with physical evidence databases will be much smaller, but likely, much more accurate. Aside from this, researchers may better serve the common good of the sasquatch community by spending their time in pursuit of the creatures or physical evidence, rather than in anecdotal evidence that has thus far led to very little useable data.
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