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 arguably 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' 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

Study 1 tested the efficacy of a 'Witness-Aimed First Account' (WAFA) interview with the primary aim of supporting autistic witnesses to improve the quality of their accounts within a legally appropriate, non-leading framework. The study adopted a 2 (Group: Autistic vs Typically Developing) x 2 (Interview: WAFA vs. Control ABE interview) x 2 (Video: Scrambled vs. Unscrambled) mixed design, where Video was within participants. Participants were interviewed about their memory for two specially developed videos depicting criminal events. One video was 'scrambled' whereby clip segments were re-ordered, thus removing the narrative structure of the video; the other video was watched intact. Participants were interviewed using the same interview (WAFA vs. Control) for both videos. In WAFA interviews, rather than having a free flow verbalization of the entire event – which is difficult and inevitably results in underperformance by autistic adults – participants self-segmented their free narrative recollection right from the beginning. Once complete, they then revisited each of the self-directed free narrative topics in turn, in the order that they were recalled. 

Study 2 tested how individual questions could be adapted to elicit more detailed yet relevant accounts from autistic witnesses. Based on an a-priori sample size calculation (assuming α =.05), in order to achieve Cohen's (1992) recommended power of .80 to detect a medium-to-large effect size, 32 ASD and 31 typically developing (TD) participants were recruited. Participants were asked to recall specific instances from their past that were relevant to CJS interviews. Questions were split into three different blocks comparing the use of: (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 the participants also received preparatory information which included the question topics. The study used a mixed factorial design: 2 (Autistic, TD) x 2 (Preparation, No Preparation) x 3 (Support: Open, Semantic Support, Verbal Labels), where Support was within-subjects.

Interim reports and publications

Chandler, R., Russell, A. & Maras, K. L.* (in press). Compliance in autism: Self-report in action. Autism.

Crane, L., Wilcock, R., Maras, K. L., Chui, W., Marti-Sanchez, C., & Henry, L. A. (2018). Mock Juror Perceptions of Child Witnesses on the Autism Spectrum: The Impact of Providing Diagnostic Labels and Information about Autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 1–11. 

Maras, K. L., 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.

Maras, K. L., Crane, L., Mulcahy, S., Hawken, T., Cooper, P., Wurtzel, D., & Memon, A. (2017). Brief Report: Autism in the Courtroom: Experiences of Legal Professionals and the Autism Community. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47, 2610–2620. 

Crane, L., Maras, K. L.*, Hawken, T., Mulcahy, S. & Memon, A. (2016). Experiences of autism spectrum disorder and policing in England and Wales: surveying police and the autism community. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Maras, K. L., Mulcahy, S., Memon, A., Picariello, F., & Bowler, D. M. (2014). Evaluating the Effectiveness of the Self-Administered Interview© for Witnesses with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 28, 693–701. 

Maras, K. L. & Bowler, D.M. (2014). Eyewitness testimony in autism spectrum disorder: A review. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44, 2682-2697. 

Maras, K. L., Memon, A., Lambrechts, A. & Bowler, D. M. (2013). Recall of a live and personally experienced eyewitness event by adults with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43, 1798-1810.

Maras, K. L. & Bowler, D. M. (2012). Context reinstatement effects on eyewitness memory in autism spectrum disorder. British Journal of Psychology, 103, 330-342.

Maras, K. L. & Bowler, D. M. (2012). Brief Report: Suggestibility, compliance and psychological traits in autism spectrum disorder. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 6, 1168-1175. 

Maras, K. L., Gaigg, S. B. & Bowler, D. M. (2012). Memory for emotionally arousing events over time in autism spectrum disorder. Emotion, 12, 1118-1128. 

Maras, K. L. & Bowler, D. M. (2011). Schema consistent misinformation effects in eyewitnesses with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41, 815-820.

Maras, K. L. & Bowler, D. M. (2010). The cognitive interview for eyewitnesses with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40, 1350-1360. 

Date due for completion

February 2021
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