Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Can interviews influence eyewitnesses non-verbally?

Influential gestures: touching a ring finger to suggest a ring
What do eyewitnesses recall? Can interviewers influence eyewitnesses?

Research to date has showed that eyewitnesses can be influenced by misleading questions, but what impact do gestures have? New research conducted by Dr Daniel Gurney shows that gestures made during interviews can also mislead, and sometimes without the eyewitnesses even realising. The research findings were presented at last week’s British Psychological Society Annual Conference.

In the research, Dr Gurney interviewed people about the contents of a video they had watched. During the interviews, he deliberately performed misleading hand gestures to suggest inaccurate information about the detail in the video. These hand gestures included such actions as chin stroking to suggest someone had a beard, although the man in the video did not have a beard. Interviewees were three times more likely to recall seeing a beard when one was gestured to them, than those interviewees who were not gestured to.

Other hand gestures used in the research included touching a ring finger (to suggest a ring), grasping a wrist (to suggest a watch) and pretending to pull on gloves. All of these gestures implied details that did not actually appear in the video and the results were similar to those with the misinformation about the beard.

For professionals in the police, legal and other sensitive areas of work where questioning and recall of detail is important, the impact of hand gestures during interview needs to be fully appreciated.

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