Cold reading and criminal interrogation

I receive a lot of correspondence about cold reading from all over the world, and most of it is very interesting. On more than one occasion, police officers and other law enforcement officials have written to me about the possible application of cold reading techniques to the interrogation of suspects in criminal cases. I find this an intriguing idea, and during a visit to New York I had the privilege of discussing it further with Peter Kougasian, Assistant DA for the County of New York (and a fine magician too). Peter suggested I consult 'Criminal Interrogation and Confessions' by Inbau, Reid and Buckley, which is a standard textbook on the subject, and this proved to be an excellent recommendation. For one thing, it's a beautifully well-written book, and I'm a fan of good writing wherever I find it. I also found the contents absolutely fascinating.

Most of what follows is based on Part 1 of this book, 'Interrogation Tactics and Techniques'. My copy is the hardback third edition, published in 1986 by Williams & Wilkins, Baltimore. For brevity, I shall refer to the authors as IRB.

I am going to explore two separate subjects.

First, I will look at some striking similarities between standard interrogation practice, as described by IRB, and the cold reading techniques we've looked at in this book. These chiefly pertain to setting up ideal conditions for the interrogation. I hope you find these comparisons as intriguing as I do.

Secondly, I will look at how some cold reading techniques might apply to interrogations in ways which are not already standard, hence not covered by IRB. These chiefly pertain to the interrogator giving the impression he knows more than he does.

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