Based on our experience

More from the Douglas Starr article: he goes to talk to the current president of the Reid Company, Joseph Buckley.

When I asked Buckley if anything in the technique had been developed in collaboration with psychologists, he said, “No, not a bit. It’s entirely based on our experience.”

Well there’s part of your problem right there. So many flaws, it’s hard to know where to begin. What about the fact that “our experience” can perfectly well include false confessions? What about the circularity? What about the obvious possibility that “our experience” could be of doing it wrong for generations? What about the need to test your assumptions?

Buckley said that the principle of compassion still guides his company, and that Kassin and other critics misrepresent him. He told me that the Reid Technique’s sole objective is to elicit the truth, and that the police interrogate only people whom they suspect of involvement in a crime. He said that critics ignore the various ways a suspect can show that he is telling the truth, and pointed out that a properly trained interviewer begins an accusatory interrogation only if the suspect appears to be lying or withholding information during the behavioral-analysis interview.

But there again – what if the interviewer’s beliefs about “the various ways a suspect can show that he is telling the truth” are wrong? What if the interviewer’s beliefs about when “the suspect appears to be lying or withholding information” are wrong? What if the assumptions underlying the behavioral-analysis interview are wrong?

He argued—and judges have regularly agreed—that if a suspect infers leniency from an interrogator’s guise of sympathy, that’s the suspect’s problem. (Critics may not like the fact that police sometimes lie to suspects during interrogations, but a 1969 Supreme Court decision affirmed their right to do so.)

No, I don’t “like” that fact very much. FindLaw has details on the decision.

It’s a remarkably ramshackle system for one that deprives millions of people of their liberty and a few of their lives.


  1. Matt Penfold says

    It is not as though there is no evidence that interview techniques that make use of scientifically rigorous psychological research are effective when used elsewhere.

    Seems like Buckley is going in for willful ignorance.

  2. sacharissa says

    When I was a kid my sister used to claim that she could tell I was lying because the corner of my mouth would twitch. She might have been right the first time she spotted it but the minute my honesty was questioned I would become anxious and my mouth would twitch. Strangely, I found it easier to keep a straight face when actually lying than when I was telling the truth, probably because I was less emotionally invested in being believed.

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