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Supporting the investigation of genocide, war crime and crimes against humanity

Project Title

Supporting the investigation of genocide, war crime and crimes against humanity: Towards evidence-driven policy for building trust and rapport in cross-cultural interviewing contexts.

Project Abstract

Given the current geo-political context of war, terrorism, human trafficking and organized crime, the pursuit of justice increasingly relies on productive interactions between individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds. Building rapport and facilitating trust in cross-cultural contexts constitutes a critical component of effective investigative interviewing. To date, policy for the conduct of such interviews has not kept pace with research. This unique collaboration between international investigators and multi-disciplinary colleagues with expertise in cross-cultural communication, investigative interviewing and international relations will identify specific shortcomings inherent in current interviewing approaches and assess how these can be addressed in light of research evidence. Our key objective is to produce an evidence-based policy resource for UK and international investigative practitioners to support cross-cultural interviewing.

If you would like further information about the project, please contact the Principal Investigator, Professor Lorraine Hope:

Project Overview

Understanding the challenges inherent in building rapport and gaining cooperation in cross-cultural investigatinginterviewing contexts.

Given the current geo-political context of war, terrorism, human trafficking and organized crime, police-civilian interactions are increasingly occurring at cultural crossroads (1), (2) and the pursuit of justice increasingly relies on productive interactions between individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds. To date, however, there have only been limited attempts to evaluate the role of culture in the conduct of effective investigative interviewing with victims, witnesses and suspects.

The main objective of the current project is, through a systematic examination of issues and obstacles reported by experienced international investigators and the synthesis of relevant research, to produce an evidence-based policy resource providing guidance for cross-cultural interviewing for UK and international investigative practitioners.

Project Context: Challenges in Cross-cultural Investigative Interviewing

Effective investigative interviews that elicit accurate and detailed information are a crucial feature of the investigative process – and the onus is on the interviewer to maximize both the quality and quantity of information obtained. However, eliciting accurate and detailed information about an incident or an event is a complex process. Investigative interviewing with witnesses, suspects and victims involves a complex conversation that unfolds over time, reflecting a dynamic and unique communication context(2), (3). Interviewers who fail to communicate effectively in the course of interviews may derail investigations, jeopardise the safety of potential victims and compromise the delivery of justice.

Culture is an important consideration in the context of investigative interviewing as culture impacts the ways that individuals communicate (4) and effective communication likely results in better rapport and cooperation in investigative interviews. However, recommendations for the conduct of investigative interviews in cross-cultural contexts have not kept pace with research identifying important cross-cultural communication dimensions (5). For instance, low context communication is factual, direct, linear and is characteristic of Western (individualistic) communication (6). However, communication in high context (collectivist) cultures tends to be more indirect and context-oriented (1) (7). Western investigators are typically focused on accessing facts and specific details in the most direct manner possible; therefore, high context communication styles may prove frustrating and result in a barrier to rapport or perceived cooperation. Cross-cultural interviews can also include communication features unlikely to occur in Western-based strategies for gaining cooperation. For instance, researchers have noted the importance of interaction strategies addressing ‘honour’, an important concept in some Middle East, Latin American, and African cultures (8). Other cultural features have also been shown to affect cooperation and communication in cross-cultural settings, for example differences in power distance(9), face negotiation (10), self-construal(11), social cynicism(12) and perceived masculinity(4). In a related vein, preferences for types of negotiating strategies, such as rational persuasion, coalition tactics, and appeals to honour can be linked to culture(8). Within the investigative interview context, investigators typically report using two main types of influencing behaviour to negotiate and gain cooperation – rational arguments and being kind(1). However, research suggests that when eliciting case related information, rational arguments may more effective for individuals from low context cultures; conversely, being kind may be linked with refusal of information by individuals from high context cultures(13). As such, rational persuasion may be problematic in certain investigative contexts, in particular within cultures which value honour, as the challenging questions which typify rational arguments may be perceived as a threat to credibility, and, therefore, public image and honour.

Cultural background is also an important factor for the process of detecting deception. As any specific culture’s distinctive communication patterns form the baseline for detecting deception within interactions, unfamiliarity with the baseline may lead to biases in detecting lies within that culture(14). For example, cultural differences in display rules regarding nonverbal behaviour, such as gaze aversion, may impact perceived credibility during intercultural interactions. The observer may apply social norms concerning nonverbal behaviours from their own culture, which are distinct from the communicator’s cultural norms(15).

Failure to take account of these (and other) cultural factors features may well impede the building of rapport and cooperation necessary for effective communication and, thus, effective investigative interviews.

Project Objectives

Our key objective is to produce an evidence-based policy resource for UK and international investigative practitioners to support cross-cultural interviewing.

Taking an innovative, interdisciplinary approach and collaborating with practitioners, relevant stakeholders, and colleagues with expertise in cross-cultural communication, investigative interviewing and international relations, this project seeks to: 

1. Identify, through observation and review, shortcomings inherent in current approaches to building rapport and promoting cooperation in cross-cultural interviews.

2. Examine, via structured focus groups involving investigators, perceived challenges in building rapport and facilitating cooperation.

3. Deliver a policy resource informed by relevant literature and research involving relevant stakeholders, designed to enhance the conduct of cross-cultural interviewing with respect to rapport building and facilitating trust and cooperation. 

Project Update: January 2018

The project commenced on 1 March 2017 and runs for 12 months.  To date, we have gathered both survey and focus group data from experienced practitioners.  We are currently coding this extensive set of data to establish emerging themes.  The review of interviews and scheduling of observations is also underway.

Our Dissemination Plans

Our plan to distribute the project findings and associated outputs widely across the academic and stakeholder community to ensure sustained impact beyond the project timeframe. The primary output of this project will be an evidence-based policy resource in the form of a report comprising guidelines and recommendations for practice. We will make this resource freely available to our practitioner partners, UK and international police and security agencies (including College of Policing and National Police Chiefs Council Strategic Steering Group on Investigative Interviewing), NGOs and UK/international bodies concerned with the delivery of justice and human rights (e.g. Amnesty International).

To achieve wider dissemination and impact, we will circulate the resource via the International Investigative Interviewing Research Group (iIIRG;, a not-for-profit organisation with members in 35 countries.

If you would like further information about the project or access to project outputs, please contact the Principal Investigator, Professor Lorraine Hope:

Our Research Team

Lorraine Hope (PI; Universityof Portsmouth)

Fiona Gabbert (Goldsmiths, University of London) 

Nelli Ferenczi (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Olivia Rutazibwa (University of Portsmouth)

Nadine Hawkins de Namor (Research Assistant; University of Portsmouth).

Gavin Oxburgh (University of Newcastle)

Professor Lorraine Hope and Professor Fiona Gabbert have extensive experience in the development and delivery of innovative applied research for investigative practitioners. Professor Hope is CI for the UK Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST). Professor Gabbert is Academic Advisor for the College of Policing's Investigative Interviewing Guideline Committee. In these (and related) roles, they have significant experience working with stakeholders/end-users and leading practice and policy innovations across security and policing domains. Dr Gavin Oxburgh is Chair/Founding Director of iIIRG and brings over 22 years investigative experience, including as an invited expert to the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture to inform development of a universal protocol for ethical interrogations. Dr Nelli Ferenczi is a cross-cultural psychologist with relevant expertise in culture, identity and cross-cultural engagement. Adding important cross-disciplinary perspectives, Dr Olivia Rutazibwa brings research expertise of 15 years working on European/western ethical foreign policy (development, democratisation, humanitarian interventions) in sub-Saharan Africa, building on post- and decolonial approaches. The research assistance for the project is Nadine Hawkins de Namor who holds an MSc in Forensic Psychology and has experience in the conduct of systematic interviews with sensitive sample populations and associated qualitative analyses.


1.         Beune, K., Giebels, E., & Sanders K. (2009). Are you talking to me? Influencing behaviour and culture in police interviews. Psychology, Crime & Law, 15, 597-617.

2.         Giebels, E., Taylor, P. J. (2009). Interaction Patterns in Crisis Negotiations: Persuasive Arguments and Cultural Differences. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94, 5-19.

3.         Vrij, A., Hope, L., & Fisher, R. P. (2014). Eliciting Reliable Information in Investigative Interviews. Policy Insights from Behavioral and Brain Sciences (PIBBS), 1,129-136.

4.         Merkin, R., Taras, V., & Steel, P. (2014). State of the art themes in cross-cultural communication research: A systematic and meta-analytic review. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 38, 1-23.

5.         Hofstede G. (2001). Culture's Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions and Organizations Across Nations. [Second Ed.] Thousand Oaks CA: Sage Publications.

6.         Gudykunst, W. B., Ting-Toomey, S., & Chua, E. (1998). Culture and interpersonal communication (Vol 8). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

 7.        Gelfand, M. J. & McCusker, C. (2002). Metaphor and the cultural construction of negotiation: A paradigm for theory and research. In M. Gannon & K. L. Newman (Eds.) Handbook of cross-cultural management (pp. 292-314). New York, NY: Blackwell.

8.         Gelfand, M. J., Severance, L., Lee, T., et al. (2015). Culture and getting to yes: The linguistic signature of creative agreements in the United States and Egypt. Journal of Organizational Behavior. 36, 967-989.

9.         Matsumoto, D., & Hwang, H. S. (2011). Cooperation and competition in intercultural interactions. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 35, 677-685.

10.        Ting-Toomey, S. (2005). The Matrix of Face: An Updated Face-Negotiation Theory. In W. B. Gudykunst (Ed.) Theorizing about Intercultural Communication (pp. 71-92). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

11.        Oeberst, A. & Wu, S. (2015). Independent vs. interdependent self-construal and interrogative compliance: Intra- and cross-cultural evidence. Personality and Individual Differences, 85, 50-55.

12.        Kurman J. (2011). What I Do and What I Think They Would Do: Social Axioms and Behaviour. European Journal of Personality, 25, 410-423.

13.        Beune, K., Giebels, E., & Taylor, P. J. (2010). Patterns of interaction in police interviews: The role of cultural dependency. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 37, 904-925.

14.        Bond, C. F. & Atoum, A. O. (2000). International deception. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 385-395.

15.        Castillo, P. A. & Mallard, D. (2012). Preventing Cross-Cultural Bias in Deception Judgments: The Role of Expectancies About Nonverbal Behavior. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 43, 967-978.





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