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Effects of Interviewers’ Guilt Presumptions on Innocent Suspects’ Verbal Behaviour and Jury Decision-Making

   Centre for Applied Psychological Science

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  Dr Shiri Portnoy, Prof P Van Schaik  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Research has demonstrated that when police interviewers approach suspect interviews while already believing the suspect is guilty, they conduct harsher interviews. Consequently, neutral observers, potentially those who serve jury duty in court, judge innocent suspects interviewed by guilt-presumptive interviewers as more nervous and defensive compared with suspects interviewed by a neutral interviewer (Hill et al., 2008; Kassin et al., 2003). While these findings demonstrate the effects of interviewers’ guilt presumptions on suspects’ non-verbal behaviour and consequent jury decision-making, research on the effects of presuming guilt on suspects' verbal behaviour during police interviews is lacking. This is alarming given that police interviewers often approach suspect interviews while already believing that the suspect is guilty (Mortimer & Shepherd, 1999; Moston et al., 1992; Shawyer & Milne, 2015). Suspects’ verbal behaviour can be assessed by examining the quantity (i.e., number of correct details provided) and accuracy (i.e., rate of number of correct details provided) of their account (Koriat & Goldsmith, 1994). Obtaining accurate and complete suspect accounts is vital for exonerating innocent suspects and informing relevant investigative directions. Because suspect interviews may be assessed as evidence by jurors in court, it is also important to examine how prospective jurors evaluate suspect accounts provided during guilt-presumptive interviews. Such assessments may pertain to the suspect’s credibility and to verdict decisions.

The proposed PhD research project aims to expand our understanding of the effects of interviewers’ guilt presumptions on the quantity and accuracy of innocent suspects’ accounts provided during various types of police interview. The proposed project will also examine how lay people (as prospective jurors) evaluate information provided during guilt-presumptive interviews when this information is presented to them in a court-case scenario.

The student will conduct their research by following these two general steps: Step 1: Examining the effects of an interviewer’s guilt presumption on innocent mock-suspects’ verbal behaviour (i.e., quantity and accuracy of information). Step 2: Examining prospective jurors’ (i.e., members of the general public) perceptions of innocent mock suspects based on accounts provided by participants from Step 1. Following these steps for lines of research should provide depth to the student’s project. With the development of the programme, it may be discovered that more steps (in addition to the above) should be taken to answer any ongoing research question.

This work is original due to its focus on suspects’ verbal behaviour during guilt presumptive police interviews as, thus far, most research on interviewers’ guilt presumptions has focused on suspects’ non-verbal behaviour (Hill et al., 2008; Kassin et al., 2003). The work is theoretically significant because it will inform us about innocent suspects’ strategies when providing information during guilt-presumptive interviews, as well as prospective jurors’ lines of thoughts when evaluating information provided by innocent suspects interviewed by a guilt-presumptive interviewer. This work is practically significant because its findings may inform changes to existing suspect interviewing techniques, especially with respect to aspects concerning the interviewer’s behaviour. The findings may contribute to reforms in manners in which suspect-police interviews are presented in court as evidence. Rigour of the work will be ensured with the use of ecologically valid methodologies, relevant quantitative and qualitative research designs and analyses, careful selection of appropriate follow-up studies, and the implementation of open science practices. The PhD candidate will be encouraged to collaborate with practitioners, such as local/national police interviewers, to inform strong research methodologies.

The proposed project addresses Teesside University’s challenge of creating vibrant, cohesive, and resilience societies. Specifically, by collaborating with local and national police interviewers, the findings of this project may contribute to real-life reforms that will assist practitioners working in the legal system, ultimately improving social and legal justice. This project also fits with the Centre for Applied Psychological Science’s theme of Cognition and Decision-Making. The project aims at understanding the decision-making processes of suspects when providing information during guilt-presumptive interviews, as well as those of prospective jurors when evaluating such information in court. The project also fits with the theme of Vulnerability and Communication in the Criminal Justice due to its focus on suspect-interviewees (i.e., innocent) who, according to previous research (e.g., Hill et al., 2008; Kassin et al., 2003), are relatively more susceptible to the effects of an interviewer’s presumption of guilt. The proposed PhD project can contribute to research-based learning at the Department of Psychology, Teesside University, with its potential research findings complementing the Applied Forensic Psychology module delivered to Forensic Psychology BSc (Hons) students, as well as the Law, Justice and Psychology and the Psychology of Investigations modules delivered to Forensic Psychology MSc students.

Entry Requirements

Applicants should hold or expect to obtain a good honours degree (2:1 or above) in a relevant discipline. A masters level qualification in a relevant discipline is desirable, but not essential, as well as a demonstrable understanding of the research area. Further details of the expected background may appear in the specific project details. International students will be subject to the standard entry criteria relating to English language ability, ATAS clearance and, when relevant, UK visa requirements and procedures.

How to Apply

Applicants should apply online for this opportunity at:

Please use the Online Application (Funded PHD) application form. When asked to specify funding select “other” and enter ‘RDS’ and the title of the PhD project that you are applying for. You should ensure that you clearly indicate that you are applying for a Funded Studentship and the title of the topic or project on the proposal that you will need to upload when applying. If you would like to apply for more than one project, you will need to complete a further application form and specify the relevant title for each application to a topic or project.

Applications for studentships that do not clearly indicate that the application is for a Funded Studentship and state the title of the project applied for on the proposal may mean that your application may not be considered for the appropriate funding.

For academic enquiries, please contact [Email Address Removed].

For administrative enquiries before or when making your application, contact [Email Address Removed].

Funding Notes

The Fees-Paid PhD studentship will cover all tuition fees for the period of a full-time PhD Registration of up to four years. Successful applicants who are eligible will be able to access the UK Doctoral Loan scheme to support with living costs. The Fully Funded PhD Studentship covers tuition fees for the period of a full-time PhD Registration of up to four years and provide an annual tax-free stipend of £15,000 for three years, subject to satisfactory progress. Applicants who are employed and their employer is interested in funding a PhD, can apply for a Collaborative Studentship.
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