You are sat at a table in a dark room, handcuffed. One police officer is shouting in your face, swearing and appears very angry. The other is stood in the corner watching and interjects saying that maybe a cup of tea is in order. Who is more likely to make you talk? Well, new research claims to have found the answer, or does it?
I originally intended to blog about the findings by the University of Montreal that ‘Good Cop’ beats ‘Bad Cop’. However, having now read the (quite long) paper I have realised I fell into the trap of a press release that took a bit too much of a license with the research. The press release, which can be found here claims that the research proves that the cuddly approach is more likely to draw a confession than an agressive questioning style. Does the paper support this? No. The variables are so intertwined that drawing a conclusion that remotely resembles the press release is at best lazy and at worst deceiptful.
Don’t get me wrong it is a good paper which draws interesting conclusions on the role of evidence quality and social factors, amongst others in obtaining a confession. However, the closest it gets to the press release is the following statment:
“It is reasonable to assume that the interviewer’s strategies and abilities in convincing the offender to confess their crime are an integral part of the interrogation outcome.”
Which I dont believe is anywhere near a strong enough assertion to draw conclusions on the differences between being a ‘good cop’ and a ‘bad cop’.
They did find that the officers interogating are likely to behave differently when the quality of evidence varies. However, this is not enough to support the claims made in the press release. Rather interestingly the Daily Mail and Express both ran with the story. Their takes on the story follows pretty closely along with the press release.
I have no vendetta against science PR. Having had a little bit of experience in the area, I know that they do a good job at helping in the flow of science knowledge from research to the public. I just felt annoyed having had my time wasted looking for the data to support the argument that wasnt really there.
So there we have it, I rest my case. I shall cease being a ‘bad cop’ and be a ‘good cop’ instead, not because the press release says I should, but because I, unlike the press release, have plenty of evidence to back up my claims!
Deslauriers-Varin, N., Lussier, P., & St-Yves, M. (2011). Confessing their Crime: Factors Influencing the Offender’s Decision to Confess to the Police Justice Quarterly, 28 (1), 113-145 DOI: 10.1080/07418820903218966