Failed Evidence’s Examination of the Reid Technique Featured on Shadow Boxing

Posted: April 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

An interview with Failed Evidence author David A. Harris about the Reid Technique, the most popular method for interrogating suspects in U.S. police departments, is featured on Shadow Boxing,  a blog written for Psychology Today.  Shadow Boxing is written by Dr. Katherine Ramsland, who teaches and writes about forensic psychology.  The post was chosen as an “essential read” for the Education area of Psychology Today.  Here’s an excerpt:

The technique seems to be designed for entrapment and even a bit of brainwashing. Is this perception accurate?

I guess I would put it a little differently, though I do understand why you would see it that way. The Reid technique for interrogation is not a process designed for the discovery of facts and evidence. Rather, it is a multi-phase process, to be used when the interrogator has already concluded that the subject is guilty, and therefore simply needs the confession out of the person to confirm the guilt and prove it.

  1. […] my previous post, I included a link to Psychology Today’s Shadow Boxing blog, which carried a brief interview […]

  2. Raymond P. Bilodeau says:

    Having handled quite a few juvenile and adult child abuse cases, I can say that any technique that aims at getting a confession is inherently untrustworthy, especially if the interrogation session is unrecorded. If it involves a child, it is even less reliable. Any useful interrogation technique should be aimed at getting a “person of interest” willing to trust the interrogator and to understand the consequences of admitting to the truth of any aspects of a case, and to what extent cooperation will affect the outcome. This does not apply to children, however.

  3. Scott Birch says:

    The entire premise presented in the excerpt is flawed. The Reid Technique is not a brainwashing technique; it is an interview technique using verbal and non-verbal communication to determine truth or deception. Once the baseline behaviors of the subject have been observed and the interview moves into more probing questions then the interviewer makes a determination, based on his interview skills and training, as well as other evidence that may be available to him, whether the subject is providing truthful responses to the questions. If it is determined that the subject is being deceptive then the interview becomes an interrogation and yes theme building, minimization, bate questions and other techniques are used in an attempt to elicit a confession from the subject. A responsible interviewer then compares the confession to other evidence and facts in the investigation to determine if the confession is valid or not.

    • I agree, Scott — the Reid Technique is not a brainwashing technique — that why I said I would put it differently. But I believe the criticism of the Technique must be dealt with: there is no evidence supporting the idea that those trained in the Reid Technique are any better at detecting truth or deception or “whether the subject is providing truthful responses” than individuals NOT trained in the Technique. For both, the ability to do this is a little above or below chance. Existing testing and research has demonstrated this multiple times. The various indicators that the Techniques teaches for detecting deception — the observed behaviors etc. — have no relationship to deception. Without the ability to do tell truth from lies, the rest of the Reid Technique is simply a system for establishing what the interrogator has concluded — which may be right or wrong. Even if one concedes that the deception deception techniques are often right, or usually right, the claim proponents make is that they are almost always right. The evidence just isn’t there to support that claim. Like it or not, there is no proof that the Technique gives a trainee the ability to tell truth from lies. I agree wholeheartedly that “a responsible interviewer then compares the confession to other evidence…” I hope that is done in every case.

      • Scott Birch says:


        You are correct that training in and of itself does not increase the individual’s ability to detect deception. However, if an investigator would use Reid and others for what they are, A TOOL to use in constructing an investigation then the debate would be less contentious. I have been a law enforcment officer for 40+ years and have been lied to by the best and had some tell me the truth and I was sure that they were lying when they were in fact truthful. I guess hard knocks is a great school. Fortunately I never based any of my investigations solely on a confession and those that I “knew” were lying have rightfully walked.

        In addition to Reid I have had training in other interview and interrogation programs including statement analysis. So, I use a blended approach to my interviews which follows these steps: Know your investigation, the facts that have been established by physical evidence, and other witness or subject information; know the person that you are interviewing, what is their personal circumstance, etc.; establish a baseline of verbal and non-verbal behaviors while building rapport;
        take their statement while watching for a change in verbal and non-verbal presentation; listen for the words they use and any change in language from the established baseline; look for clusters particularly around critical points of the interview, one deceptive “behavior” does not a liar make; finally take a break (for your sake as well as the subjects), evaluate the interview as compared to the facts and evidence previously gathered and determine an interrogation strategy. In using those steps in my interviews I believe I have avoided disaters.

  4. Dr. K. says:

    …”…designed for entrapment…” The writer of the statement misunderstands the entrapment laws.

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