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Using Memory Context

by Stan B. Walters, CSP
“The Lie Guy®”

I was doing shopping recently at a department store in my town. I encountered a familiar face in the store. Being polite I smiled said “Hello” and “How’s it going?” I received a polite response but a rather puzzled look from the person. My wife asked how I knew this person to which I replied that I knew them but couldn’t remember why. After about three hours of searching my brain I remembered. I was responsible for helping to convict them almost 25 years ago for fraud and two counts of perjury. My problem was I couldn’t remember the person outside the context or the frame of reference in which I had encountered the person.

We all tend to remember people, things or events in terms of the context in which we were exposed to the stimulus which we have stored in our memory. When you find yourself interviewing your subject who appears to be genuinely having trouble remembering, try using that person’s frame of reference in which they may have exposed to the details.

Some examples would include having a waitress try to recall a customer’s order, a big tipper, noisy patrons or busing a very dirty table. A mechanic might remember body damage, engine repair, or a unique paint job. A patrol office remembers certain traffic stops based on location, violation, time of day, unusual passenger. Teachers will remember kids based on the class they were teaching, a student who excelled in a particular area or even by their parents or a sibling they had as student. Some people remember better when you mention smells, sounds, or specific colors.

All of us can have our memories jogged when we try to remember the emotional state in which we found ourselves before, during or after the encounter. Just listen to your friends telling about funny, exciting, thrilling or even traumatic experiences and you’ll hear frame of reference at work.

Human memory is quite complex in it’s function but once we understand the basics of how memories are acquired, stored and retrieve we can greatly improve the content quality of information we can gain from our exploratory, narrative interviews.

Why Do Subjects Confess?

by Stan B. Walters, CSP
“The Lie Guy®”

During any investigative interview, the objective is to always get the truth whether by voluntary cooperation, admission or confession. Unfortunately what occasionally will happen during any interview however is the fact finder will lose sight of the reason why a subject chooses to provide a confession. To merely say that all people just want to confess is a far to simplistic and naïve a conclusion. Neither does the subject confess because the interviewer “wants” them to nor does the subject confess for the reasons the interview believes they should. The very same reasons that subjects choose to lie may in reality be the very same reasons the subjects decide to cooperate, inculpate and even confess.

Whatever the personality type the subject may possess along with their specific thinking or reasoning process, a subject will only acknowledge reality when they feel it is to their benefit to do so. The subject may be most motivated by what they perceive is significant punishment should they not confess. In their minds the evidence may have been presented in such a compelling fashion and form that to not acknowledge reality creates greater emotional or cognitive stress than to continue to lie. In addition, the fact that other family members, friends, and associates will also draw the same conclusions about the truth and their continuing denial in the face of reality can be overwhelmingly negative.

If a person will deceive in order to gain some form of reward can also be the exact same reason the person chooses to give in to the mounting evidence of reality. At the heart of this confession as well as the previous form, the subject does it for the preservation of his or her ego. The reward in the case may something they feel they will get in return. Perhaps they feel they gain power by telling the truth. Maybe their goal is to obtain notoriety and respect in some form because they acknowledged their actions as is the case in some acts of terrorism. By confessing the subject feels they have actually taken control of the events swirling around and maybe eventually what will happen to them in the form of any punishment.

Listening to the subject’s defense of their actions or the form by which they create their denials may be the key to determining what would be the best approach to move the subject to confession. The best of the interviewers learn how to put they thoughts, feelings, and prejudices aside and listen to and adopt those of their subjects. This same approach will serve as a tool to help the interviewer determine the reasoning for which a subject will choose to confess.