Interviewing police suspects with autism: testing theory and best practice for interviews

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Psychology


Involvement with the police can be a difficult experience for anyone, let alone a person with autism. Research suggests that autistic individuals may be more likely to experience involvement with the police. In addition, autism is associated with core difficulties in social communication and interaction. These difficulties are likely to be exacerbated under the stress, social and cognitive complexities of a police suspect interview.
However, no research to date has examined whether current investigative interviewing practice is appropriate for autistic suspects. We know that cognitive interviews produce less reliable information from autistic eyewitnesses, but that they can provide reliable testimony if appropriate interview adaptations are made. Since autistic individuals find retrieving specific events from memory challenging even in non-stressful situations, and have difficulties understanding the thoughts and intentions of others and providing coherent narratives, their ability to judge the case against them and provide appropriate information to counter incriminating evidence during a suspect interview is likely to be severely limited. Autism is also associated with a range of atypical behaviours - including avoidance of eye contact, repetitive movements and delayed responses to questions - that may affect perceived veracity.
Therefore, in collaboration with Greater Manchester Police, the PhD will evaluate the efficacy of UK investigative interviewing practice for autistic suspects. Drawing upon relevant psychological theory, a series of rigorous research studies shall examine experimental and 'real-world' interviews with autistic suspects. The PhD will ultimately provide clear recommendations for best practice when interviewing autistic suspects.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2096910 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2018 30/09/2022 Ralph Bagnall