Why Tough Tactics Fail and Rapport Gets Results: Observing Rapport-Based Interpersonal Techniques (ORBIT) to generate useful information from terrorists

By Alison, Laurence J., Alison, Emily, Noone, Geraldine, Elntib, Stamatis, Christiansen, Paul

Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, Vol 19(4), Nov 2013, 411-431


This field observation examines 58 police interrogators’ rapport-based behaviours with terrorist suspects; specifically, whether rapport helps elicit meaningful intelligence and information. The Observing Rapport-Based Interpersonal Techniques (ORBIT; Alison, Alison, Elntib & Noone, 2012) is a coding framework with 3 elements. The first 2 measures are as follows: (i) 5 strategies adopted from the motivational interviewing (Miller & Rollnick, 2009) literature in the counselling domain: autonomy, acceptance, adaptation, empathy, and evocation and (ii) an “Interpersonal Behaviour Circle” (adopted from Interpersonal theories, Leary, 1957) for coding interpersonal interactions between interrogator and suspect along 2 orthogonal dimensions (authoritative-passive and challenging-cooperative); where each quadrant has an interpersonally adaptive and maladaptive variant. The third (outcome) measure of ORBIT includes a measure of evidentially useful information (the “interview yield”) and considers the extent to which suspects reveal information pertaining to capability, opportunity and motive as well as evidence relevant to people, actions, locations and times. Data included 418 video interviews (representing 288 hours of footage), with all suspects subsequently convicted for a variety of terrorist offences. Structural equation modeling revealed that motivational interviewing was positively associated with adaptive interpersonal behaviour from the suspect, which, in turn, increased interview yield. Conversely, even minimal expression of maladaptive interpersonal interrogator behaviour increased maladaptive interviewee behaviour as well as directly reducing yield. The study provides the first well-defined and empirically validated analysis of the benefits of a rapport-based, interpersonally skilled approach to interviewing terrorists in an operational field setting. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)