The latest interrogation technique

Fascinating stuff. The scientists persuading terrorists to spill their secrets:

Each interview had to be minutely analysed according to an intricate taxonomy of interrogation behaviours, developed by the Alisons. Every aspect of the interaction between interviewee and interviewer (or interviewers – sometimes there are two) was classified and scored. They included the counter-interrogation tactics employed by the suspects (complete silence? humming?), the manner in which the interviewer asked questions (confrontational? authoritative? passive?), the demeanour of the interviewee (dominating? disengaged?), and the amount and quality of information yielded. Data was gathered on 150 different variables in all.

Watching and coding all the interviews took eight months. When the process was complete, Laurence passed on the data to Paul Christiansen, a colleague at Liverpool University, who performed a statistical analysis of the results. The most important relationship he measured was between “yield” – information elicited from the suspect – and “rapport” – the quality of the relationship between interviewer and interviewee. For the first time, a secure, empirical basis was established for what had, until then, been something between a hypothesis and an insider secret: rapport is the closest thing interrogators have to a truth serum.

The psychologists observed and coded the actions of the “interviewer” (interrogators) in thousands of hours of interviews from hundreds of real-world interviews with terrorists suspected of serious crimes. From this they distilled a process which appears to work better than any other interrogation technique.

I’m reminded of other things I have read such as Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. Also books on the Crusades (from both sides of the conflicts), the Soviet Union, criminals, and terrorists. People who do things far out of social norms need to justify their actions and thoughts to themselves. They almost never think of themselves as evil. And when outside of the bubble of their peers (if any) they feel a need to proselytize and convert the non-believers and make people understand why they were justified in their actions. If the interviewer gives the suspect a “safe place” to tell their story to an apparently receptive audience they are likely to do so.

This has application to other situations as well. From the same article:

Miller argued that counsellors were having precisely the wrong kind of conversation with their clients. Addicts were caught between a desire to change and a desire to maintain their habit. As soon as they felt themselves being judged or instructed, they produced all the reasons they did not want to change. That isn’t a pathology, Miller argued, it’s human nature: the more we feel someone trying to persuade us to do something, the more we dwell on the reasons we should not. By insisting on change, the counsellor was making himself feel better, while reinforcing the addict’s determination to carry on.

Miller argued that rather than instigating confrontation, counsellors should focus on building a relationship of trust and mutual understanding, enabling the patient to talk through his experiences without feeling the need to defend himself. Eventually, and with the counsellor gently shaping the dialogue, the part of the patient that wanted to get better would overcome the part that did not, and he would make the arguments for change himself. Having done so, he would be motivated to follow through on them. Miller called this approach “motivational interviewing” (MI).

I’m wondering if “interviewing” an anti-gun person in a similar manner might yield results as well. The bottom line is that both (honest) sides of the gun debate want to increase public safety. Interview the anti-gun person in a nonconfrontational manner and “let” them explain the details of how things will work. Let them realize, for themselves, their solutions cannot possibly achieve their desired goals. In essence, The Socratic Method. Might they, in the end, realize they were advocating for that which cannot deliver the desired results and instead results in a decrease in public safety?

And:

The premise of interpersonal psychology is that in any conversation, the participants are asking for status – to feel respected and listened to – and communion – to feel liked and understood. “Power, love,” says Laurence. “The fundamental elements of all human behaviour.” Conversations only go well when both parties feel they are getting their fair share of each.

A father who opens the door to his daughter when she comes home late might adopt a confrontational style, implicitly inviting a contrite response. But his daughter, feeling her agency being denied, pushes back, which provokes her father’s anger. A power struggle ensues, until the conversation terminates with one or both stomping off to their bedroom. If the father had emphasised his love for his daughter, a conversation about acceptable norms might have developed. But doing so isn’t easy, partly because children know exactly which buttons to press. “I tell (the police), if you can deal with teenagers you can deal with terrorists,” says Laurence.

I saw evidence supporting this when dealing with my teenage daughters.

Good stuff.

8 thoughts on “The latest interrogation technique

  1. Socratic Method, essentially a form of the Scientific Method, has become recently a recognized tool of the white male privileged elitist oppression of the rest of the world.
    Because it works against idiocy, and idiots aren’t having any of that.

  2. In other words, you collect more flies with honey than vinegar.

    Or, in the good-cop, bad-cop routine, you’d expect the former to collect the most info.

    And, if you are on the defense, don’t trust the nice guys.

  3. I was taught this technique in high school in how to deal with fellow teens whom may have addiction issues. Now that I am older with teenagers at home, I can indeed vouch that the same empathetic approach does indeed work wonders for getting everyone on the same page, even after behavior I would deem improper and inappropriate. I had never thought about other applications into the realm of terrorist interrogation, but it does stand to reason that unless you’re dealing with a true sociopath, rapport is indeed a good approach. Interesting!

  4. I just read a book by Joe Kenda and he does basically the same thing. Get them to talk about anything and they will get around to talking about what you want them to. The better interviewer seems to be the best listener.

  5. I think the more important thing for us to consider is how to counter this technique.

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