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The Reid Behavior Analysis Interview July - August 2014 (click here for printable version)

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The Reid Behavior Analysis Interview

A recent article offered the following description of the Reid Behavior Analysis Interview, "The purpose of the interview is to provide a means by which investigators can determine if suspects are lying or telling the truth."1 The article went on to explain that the assessment of a suspect's credibility during the interview was based almost exclusively on evaluating the suspect's nonverbal behavior and that because nonverbal behavior is a poor indicator of truth or deception, the BAI causes many innocent suspects to be interrogated. This is clearly an inaccurate and misleading description of the Behavior Analysis Interview (BAI), which can lead to faulty methodologies in designing research to study the BAI.

Historical Development

The BAI has its roots in the polygraph technique. Prior to administering a series of polygraph tests (the actual collection of physiological data when the subject is answering "yes" or "no" to test questions) the examiner conducts a 30 - 40 minute pre-test interview. This interview allows the examiner to assess the subject's suitability for the examination, e.g., intelligence, possible language barriers, emotional state, medical condition, etc. and elicits investigative information to help in the formulation of questions that will be asked during the polygraph tests. An important part of the pre-test interview is developing control questions with the subject. These are the questions that serve as the diagnostic comparison questions to render an opinion of the subject's truthfulness.

Because the polygraph technique involved inferring truth or deception based on physiological arousal, John Reid recognized that it would never be 100 percent accurate. To help identify errors, especially false positive errors (reporting a truth-teller as a liar) Reid experimented with specialized questions that were designed to be answered differently by subjects who were innocent of a crime versus subjects who were guilty. These questions, referred to as behavior-provoking questions, have been shown to accurately identify innocent or guilty suspects in field conditions well above chance levels.2 By incorporating behavior-provoking questions within the pre-test interview, the examiner has a second, independent assessment of the suspect's probable truthfulness. When the polygraph results are consistent with the suspect's responses to behavior-provoking questions the examiner has high confidence that the polygraph results are, in all likelihood, correct. However, when the polygraph results are inconsistent with the subject's responses to behavior-provoking questions, especially in the case of deceptive polygraph results, the examiner would re-evaluate the subject for known factors that cause false positive errors (anger, prior interrogation, guilty knowledge, etc.) and consider rendering an inconclusive opinion and arrange for a re-examination of the subject.

During the 1980's a number of states placed restrictions on employers' use of the polygraph technique for internal investigations. In 1988 the Federal government passed the Employee Polygraph Protection Act which essentially prohibited most employers from using the polygraph technique during an internal investigation. In an effort to offer our private industry clients an alternative to the polygraph technique we developed the Behavior Analysis Interview. The structured interview develops more detailed investigative information than a pre-test interview and also incorporates behavior-provoking questions to serve the same function as they do during a pre-test interview - as a check and balance against a primary source identifying a subject's probable guilt or innocence. In the absence of a polygraph examination the primary source of identifying a subject's guilt or innocence is evidence. That evidence may be circumstantial, testimonial and/or physical but rarely is it so complete that it establishes a person's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, the importance of a check and balance system, i.e., behavior-provoking questions.

The BAI performed very well in private sector investigations as well as law enforcement investigations where a suspect refused to take a polygraph examination. Thousands of investigators have received training in conducting behavior analysis interviews and their feedback confirms the interview's effectiveness in criminal and civil investigations.

Goals of the BAI

It must be appreciated that during a criminal investigation suspects are not randomly called in for a polygraph examination or a BAI. As evidence is collected and processed, certain individuals will surface as possible suspects in the investigation. There is generally an initial field interview of the suspect seeking an explanation for the evidence and eliciting an alibi for the suspect's whereabouts at the time of the crime. The accuracy of this information is then verified.

When evidence and other investigative information identifies a suspect as being possibly or probably involved in the crime the suspect may be apprehended, if there is probable cause to do so, or asked to come in for further questioning. 3 In some situations there may not be any specific physical or testimonial evidence that points to a particular suspect or two individuals may report diametrically opposed accounts (he said, she said investigations). Under this circumstance, suspects may be interviewed based on circumstantial evidence such as the suspect being the last person to see the victim alive, the suspect being seen in the area of a fire or having an unexplained large quantity of cash following a theft.

Thus, prior to administering a Behavior Analysis Interview the investigator is aware of the strength (or weakness) of evidence that may implicate the suspect in a crime. The goal for conducting the BAI, therefore, is to develop investigative and behavioral information that will be used to further assess the subject's probable guilt or innocence within the investigation.

In many cases evidence and investigative information strongly indicates a suspect's probable guilt. Even under this circumstance we recommend that investigators administer a BAI prior to engaging in an accusatory interrogation for the following reasons:
  1. During the BAI the investigator can establish rapport with the suspect which will be critical to gain trust and respect during the interrogation;
  2. The suspect can be profiled for the interrogation by identifying information about his background, personality, justifications for committing the crime, the type of consequence he most fears, and how flexible he perceives the consequence to be; and,
  3. The suspect's intelligence, mental and physical health, as well as his ability to speak and understand English can be evaluated.

These assessments will help determine if the suspect is suitable for an interrogation, whether special precautions should be taken before or during the interrogation, and to identify specific interrogation tactics that will increase the probability that the suspect will tell the truth during the interrogation.

Procedures Relating to The Behavior Analysis Interview

Regardless of the strength of evidence against a suspect, the BAI is always non-accusatory. The interview typically lasts 30 - 40 minutes and starts by eliciting non-threatening background information such as the correct spelling of the suspect's name, his current address, age, etc. Throughout the interview the investigator takes written notes documenting the question that was asked and the suspect's response to the question. Active note taking slows the pace of questioning which tends to enhance behavior symptoms and also allows the suspect plenty of time to formulate a response or correct misinformation provided within a response.

The second category of question elicits investigative information. For example, covering the suspect's opportunity to commit the crime (alibi) along with his access, motives and propensity to commit the crime. It is recommended that the investigator not reveal inside information to the suspect when asking investigative questions, e.g. knowing that the suspect has a prior conviction. In other words, the investigator typically asks questions to which the answer is already known. If the suspect lies to these questions, this is certainly a significant consideration in evaluating the suspect's possible guilt concerning the issue under investigation.

The final type of questions asked are the behavior provoking questions specifically designed to be answered differently by suspects who are innocent or guilty of the crime under investigation. Examples of behavior provoking questions include, "Do you think (crime) really was committed?" and, "Under any circumstance, do you think the person who committed (crime) deserves a second chance?" During the BAI the investigator will ask 15 - 20 behavior provoking questions.

The primary assessment of responses to behavior provoking questions is verbal content, however the suspect's nonverbal behavior (change in posture, "grooming gestures") as well as paralinguistic behaviors (delayed or quick responses, inappropriate laughter, etc.) are also considered. At the conclusion of the interview the investigator attempts to identify a preponderance of behaviors. That is, were the majority of responses to behavior provoking questions consistent with an innocent or guilty subject?

There are a number of possible outcomes from a BAI. If the evidence, investigative and behavioral assessments each support the suspect's innocence, the suspect is dismissed from the room. If the evidence, investigative and behavior assessments each support the suspect's guilt, the suspect may be interrogated. The Reid Technique advocates putting off an interrogation if the investigation is not completed, e.g., not being able to confirm or refute the suspect's alibi. Similarly, if there are inconsistencies within evidence, investigative and behavioral assessments typically the interrogation is put off until further investigative information can be developed.

In conclusion, despite information readily available through seminars and text books addressing the behavior analysis interview, some researchers have grossly misrepresented the purpose for conducting a BAI and the manner in which it is conducted. With this failure to understand proper procedures for administrating or interpreting information learned from the BAI, it is not surprising that these researchers found the BAI performed poorly in discriminating "innocent" from "guilty" laboratory suspects.4 The BAI was never intended to replace or usurp the collection of evidence or information during a criminal investigation. Rather, it is designed to collect further information to better eliminate innocent suspects and focus the investigation on the guilty.

1 Kassin, S., Appleby, S., Torkildson, P. "Interviewing Suspects: Practice, Science and Future Directions." Legal & Criminological Psychology, 2010.
2 See Horvath, F., Jayne, B., & Buckley, J., "Differentiation of Truthful and Deceptive Criminal Suspects in Behavior Analysis Interviews." Forensic Journal of Science, (1994)
3 The process of assessing probable guilt or innocence based on evaluating evidence and investigative information is termed factual analysis. In one study, investigators trained in factual analysis achieved a 91% accuracy rate of correctly classifying suspects as innocent or guilty based strictly on case facts -- Buckley, D. "The Validity of Factual Analysis in the Detection of Deception" Master's thesis, Reid College of Detection of Deception (1987)
4 Behavior provoking questions, similar to control question theory within the polygraph technique, require suspects who are facing serious consequences and thus form a rigid psychological set. These conditions cannot ethically be reproduced through a laboratory study design.

Credit and Permission Statement:
Permission is hereby granted to those who wish to share or copy this article. In those instances, the following Credit Statement must be included "This Investigator Tip was developed by John E. Reid and Associates Inc. 800-255-5747 / www.reid.com." Inquiries regarding Investigator Tips should be directed to Janet Finnerty jfinnerty@reid.com.