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Using behavioral analysis interview techniques to elicit confessions

This technique was formally developed by Dr. John E. Reid to help differentiate between innocent, truthful suspects and those who were being deceptive during an interview


Often, the outcome of an investigation depends heavily on the interview and interrogation skills of officers.


By Dr. Jade Pumphrey, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice at American Military University

During an investigation, police officers rely on interrogation tactics and strategies to assess whether someone is telling the truth. Often, the outcome of an investigation depends heavily on the interview and interrogation skills of officers.

One of the most prevalent methods of police interrogation is the Behavioral Analysis Interview (BAI). BAI was first formally developed by John E. Reid to help differentiate between innocent, truthful suspects and those who were being deceptive during an interview. [1,2] This is often referred to as the Reid technique. Officers can use this interview technique prior to arresting a suspect to observe differences between deceptive and truthful statements. [2]

Basics of the Reid Technique

The Reid technique uses a non-accusatory question structure to provoke behavioral responses that can then be examined for truth or deception. The technique assumes that individuals who are guilty will typically not be willing to assist the police, will attempt to conceal information about the offense, and will display an overall feeling of discomfort during the interview process. [2] Guilty persons will display higher levels of non-verbal signs such as lack of eye contact and grooming behaviors.

In contrast, those who are innocent may want to be helpful because they did not commit the crime. They may also be curious as to who is responsible for the crime and become willing to share their suspicions with investigators. [2]

Nine Steps of the Reid Technique

To start, the investigator asks myriad background questions to elicit the suspect’s normal verbal and nonverbal behavior. Then the investigator follows up with questions intended to elicit verbal and nonverbal responses indicating deceptive behavior. [3] In order to generate different reactions in suspects who are telling the truth from those who are being deceptive, Reid developed nine specific steps for interrogation:

  1. The positive confrontation. The investigator verbalizes to the suspect that there is sufficient evidence that points to their guilt.
  2. In theme development, the investigator will place moral blame on a fictitious person as to remove the suspect from the scenario and attempt to develop a sympathetic moral monologue.
  3. Handle denials. Investigators should not permit a suspect to speak when they ask for permission to do so, because they are likely to deny the accusations. Innocent suspects are more apt to quickly deny an accusation rather than ask for permission to speak.
  4. Overcoming objections. Suspects who are guilty typically offer claims of innocence and present objections to support those claims. Rather than argue with the suspect, the investigator should accept those claims as truthful statements.
  5. Procurement and retention of suspect’s attention. Here, the investigator will focus the suspect’s attention on the themes presented by the investigator rather than on the punishment they could potentially receive.
  6. Handling the suspect’s passive mood. Themes presented by the investigator will be intensified and further concentrated on the motivation and justification of the suspect. The interviewer will continue to display sympathy while encouraging the suspect to tell the truth.
  7. Presenting an alternative question. Investigators will present at least two questions that are phrased to illustrate a clear contrast between two opposite choices; for example “Sarah, was this the first time you have been involved in something like this, or has this occurred on other occasions?”
  8. Having the suspect orally relate various details of the offense. Once the suspect has accepted one side of the alternative and subsequently admits guilt, the investigator will provide a follow-up reinforcement of said omission and request additional details about the circumstances.
  9. Converting an oral confession to written confession. The investigator will make sure that they are working within the scope of the law, reading Miranda warnings using the suspect’s language, and focusing on developing the oral confession to a final written confession for record.

Critiques of Reid Technique

One of the concerns regarding the use of the Reid technique is that it leads to false confessions. False confessions are not necessarily influenced by the Reid technique, but rather by investigators applying behavior outside the scope of the technique. Suspects are more likely to falsely confess when denied their rights or when they are subjected to excessively long interrogations.

Research on the effectiveness of the Reid technique and BAI is mixed. Much of the concern with the technique involves misclassification, coercion, and contamination.

  • Misclassification error occurs when police assume that the suspect is guilty and the interview transitions into an interrogation. The research purports that police cannot easily detect true or false confessions.
  • Coercion occurs when police utilize coercive tactics such as: lengthy interrogations, sleep deprivation, guilt accusations, or lie about the evidence they have obtained.
  • Contamination error occurs when police attempt to contaminate a suspect’s narrative by fabricating parts of the story, attempting to reshape suspect’s memory, or influencing a suspect’s story through leading questions.

Even when officers have significant experience using such interrogation techniques, they are not always able to accurately judge the reasons behind suspect behavior. Experts agree that “practitioners for whom deception detection is an important part of their job are no more accurate truth and lie detectors than laypeople”. [2] To mitigate this problem, officers should only use the Reid technique to interrogate suspects whom they have a reasonable suspicion were involved in a crime.


1. Masip J, Herrero C. What would you say if you were guilty? Suspects strategies during a hypothetical behavior analysis interview concerning a serious crime. ACP Applied Cognitive Psychology, 2013, 27(1), 60-70.

2. Masip J, Herrero C, Garrido E, Barba A. Is the behaviour analysis interview just common sense? ACP Applied Cognitive Psychology, 2011, 25(4), 593-604.

3. Hartwig M, Granhag PA, Luke T. Strategic use of evidence during investigative interviews: The state of the science. In Rasking D, Honts C, Kircher J (Eds.), Credibility assessment (pp. 1-36): Academic Press, 2014.

About the Author

Dr. Jade Pumphrey has worked in higher education since 2006 and has taught more than 65 different criminal justice courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. She currently serves as an adjunct faculty member in the School of Security and Global Studies at American Military University. Pumphrey obtained an A.S. in General Science, a B.S. in Criminal Justice, a M.S. in Forensic Science Investigations and a PhD in Public Safety/Criminal Justice. In addition to her work in higher education, Pumphrey volunteers for her local police department as an on-call victim assistant.

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