Ignorance is bliss when conducting witness interviews

Posted by Ayleen Barbel Fattal for FIU News

Current investigative interviewing guidelines recommend interviewers review all available case information prior to questioning a witness. However, a recent study suggests prior case knowledge may actually be detrimental to the outcome of an investigative interview.

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A team of researchers, including FIU legal psychologist Nadja Schreiber Compo, are the first to study blind interviewing through observation, a technique contrary to what is recommended by the National Institute of Justice. The findings were recently published in the journal Memory, revealing blind interviewers — those with little to no knowledge about the crime — elicited more detailed and accurate information than those who had correct information about the crime prior to the interview.

“This line of research is directly relevant for real-world witness and victim interviewers who thus far have oftentimes been told to review a case file before conducting a witness interview,” Schreiber Compo said. “Our findings suggest that an interviewer with no background information may at the very least not be at a disadvantage, possibly at an advantage, when interviewing a witness.”

Nearly 350 people participated in the study and were randomly assigned the role of either the witness of a crime, interviewer or blind interviewer. The “witnesses” viewed one of two videos that depicts a crime, each with varied details. The “interviewers” were given summaries of the crime, sometimes with correct information and sometimes incorrect. “Blind interviewers” were given no information prior to conducting their interviews. All interviewers were asked to write reports at the conclusion of the simulations.

To read the full FIU News story, click here.