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From early adversity to psychological vulnerability during investigative interview: Achieving best evidence in the presence of vulnerability. Dr Kim E Drake, PhD CPsychol University of Derby [email protected] Objectives.

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dr kim e drake phd cpsychol university of derby k drake@derby ac uk
From early adversity to psychological vulnerability during investigative interview:Achieving best evidence in the presence of vulnerability

Dr Kim E Drake, PhD CPsychol

University of Derby

[email protected]

  • To demonstrate how psychological vulnerability, which can manifest during police interview, may develop through the life-span.
  • In light of psychological evidence, to highlight and discuss aspects of the interview where vulnerability may pose the biggest issue.
psychological vulnerability during investigative interview
Psychological vulnerability during investigative interview
  • Sensitivity to external pressure can be a serious psychological vulnerability during police interview.
  • Can manifest in two ways:
  • interrogative suggestibility
  • interrogative compliance
  • Vulnerable behaviour still an issue though: (1) the problem with open questions; (2) the suspect’s perception of interview which is vital

Drake, 2010b; Gudjonsson, 2003; Gudjonsson et al., 2008; Jakobsson-Öhrn & Nyberg, 2009

vulnerable suspects
Vulnerable suspects
  • A proportion of suspects simply come to be vulnerable through their character or personality (e.g. B’ham Six, G’ford Four, Judith Ward, and Alfred Allen)
  • This population do not have any mental disorder to abnormal intellectual functioning – so no apparent signs of vulnerability.
  • How has such vulnerability developed?
the suspect s life history
The Suspect’s Life History
  • The experience of life adversity linked with sensitivity to pressure and false confessions
  • Types of NLEs associated with interview suggestibility:
  • Bullying, a history of victimisation, failing exams/difficulty finding work.
  • Personal relationships – breaks ups/parental divorce, death/major illness of a loved one
  • Social issues – decline in social activity/being victim of crime.

Drake, et. al., 2008; Gudjonsson, Sigurdsson & Sigfusdottir, 2009; 2010

the suspect s life history1
The Suspect’s Life History
  • Parents provide first source of interaction.
  • Influences child’s behaviour, perception of self, and relationship with others.
  • Object of child’s attachment (usually parent or caregiver) usually reciprocates emotions
  • Results in strong two-way emotional bond
  • Development of solid interpersonal relationships, healthy self-esteem and psychological development.
attachment anxiety
Attachment anxiety
  • Institutionalised children have deficits:
  • Problems forming attachments
  • Reduced capacity to deal with stress/pressure
  • Interpersonal problems
  • Insecure attachment patterns precipitate the experience of stressful experiences.

Drake, 2010b; Schore, 2001; Zeanah & Emde, 1994

how might vulnerability develop across the life span
How might vulnerability develop across the life-span?



Interview pressure/







(due to social exclusion etc)



(e.g. poverty/

lack of opportunity)

G & C model

Lack of care

(incl. negative parenting)


G & C model



(i.e. insecure






Interview pressure/



Brown, Harris & Bifulco, 1986, Drake, in press, Maughan & Kim-Cohen, 2005

achieving best evidence in the presence of vulnerability
Achieving best evidence in the presence of vulnerability
  • Adversity can lead to problems during interview
  • Sensitivity to perceived pressure
  • Insecure attachment tendencies can lead to problematic interactions.
  • Now you’ve heard the psychological theory – think back over past interviews that you have conducted, which aspects of the interview may especially be affected and why?
  • In light of this theory, how can interviewers overcome these?
points to consider w hen interviewing a vulnerable suspect
Points to consider when interviewing a vulnerable suspect
  • Does the suspect understand the police caution?
  • Are they fully oriented in time, place and person?
  • Can the detainee provide coherent and relevant answers, and sustain a conversation?
  • Issue of rapport building with a vulnerable (emotionally needy sometimes) suspect – always beneficial? Constructive and facilitating, but not “too nice”......
  • Interviewer empathy essential
but when do psychological vulnerabilities matter
But: when do psychological vulnerabilities matter?
  • Vulnerable suspects can be interviewed effectively.
  • PVs as risk factors; not definitive markers of unreliability.
  • Consistent with Code C of Practice of PACE (Home Office, 2008).
  • PVs should not be considered in isolation of other factors.
when do psychological vulnerabilities matter cont
When do psychological vulnerabilities matter cont.?
  • The investigative interview is a dynamic and interactive process.
  • Crucial factors influencing capacity for suspect to cope with questioning (Gudjonsson & MacKeith, 1997):
  • Circumstances
  • Interactions
  • Personality
  • Health
life adversity can also lead to resilience
Life adversity can also lead to resilience
  • Attachment anxiety and the reported experience of intense negative life events  psychological resilience (i.e. lower compliance scores).
  • The experience of dependent and interpersonal negative events predicted lower compliance scores over-and-above attachment anxious behaviour.

Drake, Sheffield & Shingler, 2011

  • Discussed:
  • The psychology of the vulnerable suspect;
  • How vulnerability may develop across the life-span;
  • These suspects do not always show signs of being vulnerable (until the interview where it manifests as compliance/suggestibility etc);
  • The problems associated with aspects of the interview e.g. rapport building with vulnerable suspects;
  • When such behaviour may an issue.
key references
Key references
  • Drake, K. E (in press). Why might innocents make false confessions? The Psychologist.
  • Gudjonsson, G. H. (2010). Invited article: Psychological vulnerabilities during police interviews. Why are they important? Legal and Criminological Psychology, 15, 1-16.