Because we err: making communication errors in a suspect interview

Because we err: An explorative study into the effects of making communication errors in a suspect interview


It may happen to anyone; addressing someone with the wrong name, not reflecting someone’s feelings properly, being too direct in responding. In normal conversations this may not be so problematic. The error maker acknowledges that he or she has made an error and the other party will feel reassured. But what if that other party is being interviewed because he or she may have new intelligence about an upcoming terrorist attack? Or a suspect of murder who is denying everything? The making of a communication error in such a situation may have more severe consequences. The trusting relationship between police and citizen, that is usually hanging by a thread already, may become even more at stake.

Literature shows that the making of errors, mainly in association with relation and task, coincides with more negative feeling states (fear/shame), more stress and more cognitive load for the maker of the errors. The question remains however whether these consequences are also visible if an error in the communication occurs. And if so, whether this influences how the error maker responds to the error. Next to this, studies shows that the reaction from an error maker may be determined by their error approach. An approach that rests on the notion of preventing errors at all costs (error prevention) or the notion that errors are inevitable and should be classified as something you can learn from (error management). All in all, the questions where this explorative study is focusing on are:


What are the intrapersonal consequences of the making of communication errors by the interviewer in a suspect interview?


What type of response strategies do the interviewers use?


Does the error approach of the interviewer (i.e., error management vs. error prevention) influence the cognitive, affective and behavioral responses (the use of a response strategy)?


This investigation is part of a bigger project into communication errors in police-civilian interactions (PhD project of Miriam Oostinga). After performing your own literature review about this topic, we will work on the set-up of an experiment that will answer these questions.


Dimitrova, N.G., van Dyck, C., van Hooft, E.A.J., & Groenewegen, P. (2014). Don’t fuss, focus: The mediating effect of on-task thoughts on the relationship between error approach instructions and task performance. Applied Psychology: An International Review. doi: 10.1111/apps.12029

Ren, H., & Gray, B. (2009). Repairing relationship conflict: How violence type and culture influence the effectiveness of restoration rituals. Academy of Management Review, 34(1), 105-126. doi: 10.5465/AMR.2009.35713307


Are you interested in this assignment? Please contact the theme coordinator Sven Zebel (