The Importance of Psychological Research Within the Criminal Justice System

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The Criminal Justice System is a set of legal and social organisations which implement the criminal law by obeying rules and regulations. Psychological research has affected the criminal justice system in different ways and this essay is designed to understand the effect it has had upon the interview process (Day & Marion, 2019).

The interview is an important method used by the police in order to gather information from individuals as it forms a foundation for all investigations. Psychologists have engaged in many research studies with the objective of finding different methods in which this process can be improved (Milne et al. 1999). This essay will begin to look at the history behind police interviewing and how the importance of psychological research has developed methods from unethical to ethical standards for acquiring information from witnesses.

In the article of police interviewing, Roberts (2012), displays a historical overview of the development in interviewing individuals from unethical methods to the influence of psychological research. From this we will see that in the 1930’s doubts relating to police interrogation began to arise that later disclosed the thought of persuasive interview strategies, increasing the chance of false confessions. It is hard to distinguish the difference between what truly happened and what is remembered when techniques in the interviewing process, such as leading questions are used by the police (Prescott, Milne, & Clark, 2011).

This type of technique reduced the reliability of the information that was reported and because of this, psychologist Geiselman et al, (1984) developed the Cognitive Interview. The Cognitive Interview was implemented to give authorities an ethical procedure that would provide them with reliable witness reports. This provided a shift in the interview process that allowed psychology to be utilised positively in the criminal justice system.

The Cognitive Interview consists of four cognitive mnemonics which Geiselman et al, (1985) believed would be effective due to the negative impact of misleading information. The Cognitive Interview starts with focusing on mental reinstatement which is the technique used by the interviewer attempting to recreate the environment that the crime took place in. This is achieved by asking the witness about their five senses in relation to the crime. Next, the witnesses are asked to relay the information that they have reported from a different perspective. Geiselman (1984) introduced the idea of recounting the incident in several narrative orders, usually starting from the end to the beginning to prevent any mistakes.

All witnesses are told to report an in-depth account of the crime to increase the chance of finding a conclusion. There have been reports that the cognitive interview is more time consuming for police officers as they will spend more time in training and longer in the interview room. However, the cognitive interview is used to promote improvements to witness accounts and to assist with the psychological health of all victims (Fisher & Geiselman, 2010). This shows the importance of psychological research as it develops the exploration into cognitive psychology to improve the quality of witness reports.

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Geiselman et al (1985), conducted a psychology laboratory experiment which compared the Cognitive Interview to two other interviewing process. Geiselman’s (1985) aim for this experiment was to see how psychology has impacted the interview process and to show the effectiveness of the new technique (Geiselman et al, 1984). The experiment consisted of 51 volunteers viewing a violent crime and after 48 hours being interviewed by a policeman. The policemen used three different interview methods: the cognitive interview; a standard interview and an interview using hypnosis. Each interview was recorded in order to provide precise results for the experiment. Geiselman et al, (1984) found that the results showed the Cognitive Interview to have an average of 41.2% for correct answers, for hypnosis the results showed 38.0% and for the standard interview it was 29.4%.

The conclusion to this experiment is that the Cognitive Interview improves the memory of witnesses as they are able to recall the events of a crime with more accuracy which would provide information with an increased level of reliability. From the results, we can also see how reliability has progressed throughout the development of the different psychological techniques that are now used within police interviewing (Fisher, Geiselman & Amador, 1989).

The study Geiselman et al (1985) conducted was effective as it provides a foundation into the cognitive research in regards to police interviewing. In addition to this, the study showed how looking into the cognitive psychology of interviewing improved the quality of information retrieved in the process. Geiselman et al (1985) study is lacking in ecological validity as the volunteers were watching incidents that were filmed instead of events that had happened in reality. Psychologists have questioned the validity of the research into the cognitive interview, therefore, Fisher et al (1989) conducted a study which focused on the real-life study of the cognitive interview. Fisher and Geiselman (1989) trained seven policemen to understand the procedure for the cognitive interview process.

The researchers monitored police interviews for over seven months to see how the cognitive interviews had impacted the information reported before and after training. The results concluded that the detectives gained information that was 47% more effective using the cognitive interview when compared to the standard method. This provides ecological validity to Geiselman (1985) cognitive interview as the results replicated the laboratory experiment. This provides further evidence for the importance of psychological research within the criminal justice system (Yogi, 2019).

This essay has discussed the historical background of police interviewing before the influence of psychology by highlighting the unethical techniques used to manipulate individuals in the interview room. The cognitive interview has been discussed with the support from Geiselman et al (1985) study as evidence to emphasis on the effectiveness of the research. All of the points that I have addressed throughout this essay leads to the conclusion as to whether psychological research has effected the criminal justice system.

The importance of psychological research upon the criminal justice system is increasing as we are constantly learning new information about why people behave like they do and how to address this ethically. Geiselman (1985) Cognitive interview is effective in the policing world as the technique is more structured forming an appropriate procedure for investigating crime. Without psychology, the criminal justice system wouldn’t implement the cognitive interview, resulting in the continuing problem of leading questions, increased false confessions and unethical procedures.

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