Information-Gathering Interrogation Approach


What is the Information-Gathering Interrogation Approach?

What is the Evidence on the Information-Gathering Interrogation Approach?

What Can Police Do to Improve Interrogations?

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What is the Information-Gathering Interrogation Approach?

According to Meissner and colleagues (2012: 10) information-gathering interrogation methods (common in the UK) differ from accusatorial interrogation approaches (common in the U.S.) on four main dimensions:

1. Relationship with suspect:

  • Information-gathering: Trying to establish rapport with the suspect and use positive confrontation to obtain a confession, clearly explain the charge to the suspect
  • Accusatorial: Trying to manipulate and control the suspect to obtain a confession, confrontational

2. Questioning approach:

  • Information-gathering: Open-ended questions, exploratory; suspects given a chance to tell their side of the story
  • Accusatorial: Closed-ended questioning, confirmatory

3. Primary intended outcome:

  • Information-gathering: Obtain information, truth seeking
  • Accusatorial: Obtain a confession

4. Model of deception detection:

  • Information-gathering: Cognitive cues (e.g. can a suspect recount events in a different order which presumably would be more difficult for someone lying to do than someone telling the truth?)
  • Accusatorial: Anxiety-based cues (e.g. does the suspect seem nervous and uncomfortable?)

What is the Evidence on the Information-Gathering Interrogation Approach?

Information-gathering interrogation approaches are listed under “What’s promising?” on our Review of the Research Evidence. 

Meissner, Redlich, Bhatt, and Brandon (2012) assessed police interview and interrogation techniques to determine which method of interrogation is more successful in maximizing valid confessions from suspects and minimizing false confessions.  They compared the accusatorial method common in the United States to the less confrontational information-gathering method common in the United Kingdom.

Field studies (i.e. studies that examined actual interrogations) suggested that both methods increased the likelihood of confessions compared to general questioning methods. Laboratory experiments (typically using college students as subjects), however, revealed that information-gathering methods reduced false confessions and in certain instances increased the likelihood of true confessions, while accusatorial methods made false confessions more likely.

Meissner and colleagues (2012: 33-34) conclude that “while accusatorial methods significantly increased the likelihood of obtaining a true confession (when compared with a no-tactic control condition), these methods also significantly increased the likelihood of obtaining a false confession – a rather medium-to-large effect that is consistent with many cases of wrongful conviction in the United States.” In regards to information-gathering techniques, they note ” information-gathering approaches significantly increased true confession rates, but showed no significant increase in the rate of false confessions when compared with a no-tactic control condition. In fact, information-gathering approaches appeared to show a numerical decrease in the rate of false confessions obtained.”

The main policy implication of the Meissner et al. (2012) review is that the police (and other law enforcement agencies) should consider information-gathering approaches to interrogation as a means to maximize true confessions and minimize false confessions and thus enhance the fairness of policing.

What Can Police Do to Improve Interrogations?

Meissner et al. (2015) offer strategies for maximizing the effectiveness of the information-gathering approach.  These include:

  • Building rapport- e.g., through active listening, engaging eye contact, establishing common ground
  • Using a cognitive interview- e.g., encourage subjects to provide everything they remember, but not to guess about details they can’t recall, use of open-ended questions
  • Presenting evidence, not false evidence- can be used to identify contradictions or issues in account
  • Assessing credibility- most effectively done by disclosing evidence later and gradually disclosing evidence to show inconsistencies in account

Evidence-Based Policing Matrix


There are not any studies on information gathering interrogation techniques in the Evidence-Based Policing Matrix, because studies in this area have focused on confessions and not crime control effectiveness.