There’s a great story in The New York Times today taking a look at how researchers and law enforcement agencies are taking a fresh look at how to conduct interrogations when investigating a crime.

The story references research that has been done by Dr. Cheryl Hiscock-Anisman of National University in La Jolla. Hiscock-Anisman and her colleagues have, apparently, developed a new approach to conducting interviews that helps interrogators separate fact from fiction.

Here’s a snippet from the story:

The interview is low-key but demanding. First, the person recalls a vivid memory, like the first day at college, so researchers have a baseline reading for how the person communicates. The person then freely recounts the event being investigated, recalling all that happened. After several pointed questions (“Would a police officer say a crime was committed?” for example), the interviewee describes the event in question again, adding sounds, smells and other details. Several more stages follow, including one in which the person is asked to recall what happened in reverse.

In several studies, Dr. (Kevin) Colwell and Dr. Hiscock-Anisman have reported one consistent difference: People telling the truth tend to add 20 to 30 percent more external detail than do those who are lying. “This is how memory works, by association,” Dr. Hiscock-Anisman said. “If you’re telling the truth, this mental reinstatement of contexts triggers more and more external details.”

Not so if you’ve got a concocted story and you’re sticking to it. “It’s the difference between a tree in full flower in the summer and a barren stick in winter,” said Dr. Charles Morgan, a psychiatrist at the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, who has tested it for trauma claims and among special-operations soldiers.

The full story’s really interesting and well worth a read.


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