Dan Lassiter

G. Daniel Lassiter

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Psychology professor receives APA award

G. Daniel Lassiter recognized for research into custodial interrogations

The American Psychological Association (APA) recently announced Ohio University Professor of Psychology G. Daniel Lassiter as the recipient of the 2010 Award for Distinguished Contributions to Research and Public Policy.

Lassiter received the award for his research into the video recording of custodial interrogations. His research focused on the implications of camera perspective and related biases in regard to interrogation-induced false confessions.

An article titled, "Psychological Science and Sound Public Policy: Video Recording of Custodial Interrogations," written by Lassiter, will be featured in the November issue of the American Psychologist journal. The article provides a brief outline of his research and its findings.

"What's the best way to implement the video recording practice?" Lassiter asked in the article. "If we're going to use this technology, in hopes of improving it we should draw on the best available science."

Lassiter's research suggests that when determining whether an admission of guilt was given voluntarily or was the result of the suspect yielding to the psychological pressures of the interrogation, a camera perspective that focuses solely on the suspect could bias observers' analyses.

According to the research, in cases employing a suspect-focus camera perspective, observers tend to rely on facial cues to determine whether an admission of guilt is truthful. However, the verbal content of the admission as well as how it is said – tone of voice – tends to be more reliable in distinguishing true from false confessions. 

"What stands out visually can often be overrepresented in our assessments of what's happening at an event," Lassiter said. "Even if we look at the event over and over again, we see the things we want to see and we miss other kinds of information."

Lassiter recommends that an equal-focus perspective be used, one in which the profiles of the suspect and the interrogator are similarly visible. He states that this perspective elicits judgments that are comparable to those based on audiotapes and transcripts, which are considered to be unbiased formats.

"It all depends on what your perspective is," he said.

Lassiter began his research into custodial confessions in 1983 while in graduate school at the University of Virginia. His findings have since influenced New Zealand and North Carolina to mandate that police interrogations be video recorded using an equal-focus perspective.