The Power of Suggestion: What Justice Professionals Need to Know When Questioning Witnesses

The Power of Suggestion: What Justice Professionals Need to Know When Questioning Witnesses
Duration: 60 Minutes
Module 1Module 1
Recorded on: 2023-06-29
Unit 1Presentation Materials: The Power of Suggestion: What Justice Professionals Need to Know When Questioning Witnesses
Unit 2Transcript: The Power of Suggestion: What Justice Professionals Need to Know When Questioning Witnesses
Unit 3Workbook: The Power of Suggestion: What Justice Professionals Need to Know When Questioning Witnesses
Unit 4Recording: The Power of Suggestion: What Justice Professionals Need to Know When Questioning Witnesses

Eyewitness memory can be influenced by suggested information from external sources – this is something worth considering during the investigative and court process to better capture the facts of a case. This webinar explores the power of suggestion and how both children and adults are vulnerable to suggestibility and how trauma, stress, and other factors can affect memory.

This session’s instructor is Wendy Dutton, a forensic interviewer for the past 29 years who has conducted more than 11,000 forensic interviews. She has worked with adult and adolescent sexual offenders for eight years in inpatient treatment, prison, and probation systems.

Specifics of Wendy’s discussion are on:

  • What suggestibility is, cases that illustrate how suggestibility plays out, and how both children and adults are susceptible to this.
  • Studies demonstrating how memory and suggestibility work and how false events can be implanted in both children and adults through suggestion.
  • The concept of memory being reconstructive and the four aspects of memory formation – schemata, encoding, storage, and retrieval.
  • Schemata and its components
    • Source monitoring skills as the ability to identify how you know what you know and how this develops and progresses across one’s life span.
    • Event knowledge that is grounded on a person’s knowledge base which helps make sense of new experiences and influences memory recollection.
    • Script memory that is developed through repeated experiences that creates a general pattern of what typically happened during events.
  • Encoding and the elements that influence how memories are encoded.
    • Attention where we only encode what we focus on and pay attention to.
    • Sensory experience where things are more likely to be encoded and remembered when more sensory systems are activated.
    • Perception which is the process of making sense of things that impacts how things are remembered.
    • Arousal where highly emotional or stressful events are better remembered.
  • The factors that influence the storage of memory as…
    • The natural process of forgetting through time and the process of memory consolidation.
    • Core details versus peripheral details, and script information versus incidental information.
  • Memory retrieval that is impacted by…
    • Interview techniques: The types of questions asked, and the interview props implemented.
    • The number of times interviews are conducted particularly for children.
    • The counseling/therapy approach used.
  • Individual differences such as:
    • Age: Where younger children are more susceptible to suggestion.
    • Language abilities: Where children with more advanced abilities in terms of vocabulary and receptive language skills are more resistant to suggestions.
    • Mental processing abilities: Where those with challenges in inhibitory control and working memory capacity are more prone to suggestions.
    • Parent-child relationship: Where those with better attachment to their primary caretaker are more resistant to suggestions.
  • The difference between how younger and older individuals remember things.
  • How the level of stress impacts memory, with moderately traumatic events being better remembered and severely traumatic events leading to memory distortions or blank spots.
  • How chronic stress can negatively impact memory and suggestibility where elevated cortisol levels can…
    • Damage the hippocampus which is in charge of memory consolidation.
    • Disrupt sleep patterns which is crucial since memory consolidation happens in the deepest level of sleep.
  • Specific techniques to minimize suggestibility that looks into the environment, the interviewer’s demeanor, how soon the interview is conducted from the report, the interview protocol used, the use of interview props, and interview preparation.

Questions from the webinar attendees are about:

  • Who the primary caretaker is.
  • Reliance on eyewitness statements.
  • How gaslighting impacts memory.
  • How sleep aids can impact memory consolidation.
  • What option posing questions are and examples of which.
  • How stress and poor sleep hygiene in criminal justice professionals affect their memory and learning.
  • How cultural differences impact forensic interviews of kids.
  • How repressed memories can surface during interviews in investigations.
  • Interview templates to use that protect the memory of victims and witnesses.



Click here to view and register for other upcoming Prosecutorial/Legal webinars on the JCH Platform 


Resources and Handouts


Audience Comments

  • “Thank you Wendy for a great presentation, learned much!” — Barbara
  • “I thought the examples of open-ended questions were great. Great webinar.” — Carri
  • “Forensic Interviewing is constantly evolving. Getting the latest research and approved method of interviewing is beneficial for Detectives or Investigators always interviewing children, teenagers, and adults. Thank You for the course!!!” — Herman
  • “Loved the topic. the information can for sure be applied to family interviews for my center when we are trying to get family history, domestic violence survivors’ reports, and the abusers. Well done presentation! Love the interaction via polls.” — Lea
  • “This presenter was so knowledgeable, my only complaint was I wanted more time with her. I would appreciate a series with this same presenter going more in-depth for memory/suggestibility and more specific direction on questioning techniques. PLEASE have her back. One of the best presenters you’ve ever had.” — Melissa



This webinar is part of the JCH Summer School Program. From June 1-August 31, 2023, attendees will receive a certificate of attendance via email about one hour after the conclusion of a webinar.

Want to join us for other Summer School webinars? Check out our Summer School Calendar and register today!



Additional Resources
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