Assessing naturalistic decision making by experienced and inexperienced interrogators in high stakes interviews

Amy B Ross, University of Texas at El Paso


The current thesis aimed to improve the ecological validity of human intelligence interrogation research. Although field practitioners and researchers have worked together to improve the scientific validity and practical execution of interrogation techniques, research has yet to understand how, when and why interrogators implement such techniques. This thesis investigated the active decision making processes of interrogators that occur during high value interrogations. The theory of Naturalistic Decision Making was used to capture the naturalistic characteristics of high value interrogations—ambiguity, time pressure and high stakes. To capture the decision-making processes that are associated with skilled performance, this research conducted in-depth interviews with seventeen interrogators, and compared experienced ( n = 9) to inexperienced interrogators (n = 8). Methods of cognitive task analysis and protocol analysis were used to enhance participants' verbalizations. Finally, the criteria used to determine participants' experience level (i.e. experienced or inexperienced) was validated using the five-stage theory of skill acquisition. It was found that experienced interrogators had a more flexible interrogation approach compared to inexperienced interrogators. This flexibility allowed experienced interrogators to better handle the naturalistic elements of the interrogation environment. All interrogators were found to have adequate skills pertaining to rapport building; however experienced interrogators further developed rapport in line with anecdotal evidence from past interrogators and investigators. Future field research should replicate these findings with additional interrogation simulations.

Subject Area

Animal sciences|Cognitive psychology

Recommended Citation

Ross, Amy B, "Assessing naturalistic decision making by experienced and inexperienced interrogators in high stakes interviews" (2013). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI1551247.