Eliciting best evidence from autistic interviewees

Research Institution / Organisation

University of Bath

Principal Researcher

Katie Maras

Level of Research

Professional / Work-based

Project Start Date

April 2017

Research Context

Autistic individuals are more likely to be interviewed as a victim/witness or suspect, yet they also experience specific episodic memory difficulties coupled with core social communication impairments. Given that language and communication are the currency of police interviews in order to elicit detailed memory of an event, it is unsurprising that a recently accumulating body of research finds that autistic witnesses often recall less information and/or less accurately when interviewed under current best evidence models such as the Cognitive Interview and 'report all' open-ended free recall. 

The aim of this project is to develop and test alternative models of interviewing that support the specific memory and social communication difficulties of autistic witnesses within a legally appropriate framework.

Research Methodology

Studies compared autistic and non-autistic adults (matched on age and IQ) on applied memory tasks under different retrieval support conditions. Sample sizes were determined by a-priori sample size calculations (assuming α =.05), in order to achieve Cohen's (1992) recommended power of .80 to detect a medium-to-large effect.

Study 1 tested the efficacy of a novel 'Witness-Aimed First Account' (WAFA) interview technique, compared to a control ABE interview. In WAFA interviews, the witness is first asked to briefly segment the event into its main constituent parts (which are then displayed on post-it notes), before freely recalling each of the segments in turn in as much detail as possible (followed by TED questions). 

Study 2 tested how individual questions could be adapted to elicit more detailed yet relevant accounts from autistic witnesses. Participants were questioned about specific instances from their past, with: (1) open questions; (2) cueing with general autobiographical information before asking for specific details; (3) Visual-Verbal prompting, involving a visual pie-diagram with prompts to recall when, who, what and where. Half of participants also received preparatory information which included the question topics.  

Study 3 tested autistic eyewitnesses' metacognitive monitoring and informativeness-accuracy decision making in their recall (i.e., monitoring the accuracy of one's memory and making accuracy-informativeness trade off decisions in deciding whether to report information at the fine- or coarse-grained level). The study tested: a) the impact of instructions to maximise accuracy vs. informativeness, and b) the effect of answering questions socially vs. online on the informativeness and accuracy of testimony.

Interim reports and publications

What to do when conducting an investigative interview with an autistic person.  This guide will help you conduct an interview as part of an investigation with an autistic person.

Maras, K., Dando, C., Stephenson, H., Lambrechts, A., Anns, S., & Gaigg, S. (2020). The Witness-Aimed First Account (WAFA): A new method for interviewing autistic witnesses and victims. Autism, 24, 1449-1467.

Maras, K., Norris, J., & Brewer, N. (2020). Metacognitive monitoring and control of eyewitness memory reports in autism. Autism Research, 13, 2017-2029.

Norris, J., Crane, L., & Maras, K. (2020). Interviewing autistic adults: adaptations to support recall in police, employment, and healthcare interviews. Autism, 24, 1506-1520.

Chandler, R., Russell, A. & Maras, K. (2019). Compliance in autism: Self-report in action. Autism, 23, 1005-1007.

Maras, K., Mulcahy, S., Crane, L., Hawken, T., & Memon, A. (2018). Obtaining best evidence from the autistic interviewee:  Police-reported challenges, legal requirements and psychological research-based recommendations. Investigative Interviewing: Research and Practice 9(1), 52-60.

See also: https://www.bath.ac.uk/projects/supporting-autistic-adults-in-interviews/

Date due for completion

January 2022
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