Mindmap: What sources mean when they say “I Don’t Know”

Mindmap: What Sources Mean When They Say “I Don’t Know”

When a source responds to a question with either ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t remember’, that may well be a legitimate response. However, these responses may also reflect several cognitive, social and motivational states.

When a source says, ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t remember’ they may have a number of reasons for doing so. Professor Lorraine Hope categorises potential reasons underlying these responses and provide examples that illustrate each reason in this infographic, which you can download, free, here.

For a more detailed breakdown on each category click here where you can download a poster for each section.

Motivation & Strategy

Personal motivation

Example:

  • I’m afraid/I feel trapped or under pressure.
  • I was asked to keep it a secret/don’t want anyone to find out.
  • I need to protect some people close to me.

Explanation:

  • Revealing the information may bring other people into the investigation/put other people at risk/betray friends or family.
  • Ideological or group allegiances.

Response:

  • Acknowledge and provide assurances (where possible).
  • Explore issues and concerns.
  • Develop rapport and trust, highlighting the benefits of disclosed information.
  • Reframe: not a secret, not a betrayal; benefits others, still within in-group.

Distrust, cynicism & hostility

Example:

  • I don’t trust you with this information.
  • You might use this information against me.

Explanation:

  • Doubts about the interviewer’s intentions towards them or their ability to look after their safety.
  • A perception of loss of control and they are entering a process that once started cannot be stopped.

Response:

  • Rapport, acknowledge, assurances (where possible).
  • Develop rapport and trust, highlighting the benefits of disclosed information.
  • Explore issues and concerns.
  • Explain processes for information security and source protection.

Memory & Cognition

Memory encoding

Example:

  • I was intoxicated/high.
  • I was extremely tired/disoriented/feeling confused.

Explanation:

  • May not want to admit to self-inflicted states or perceived weaknesses.
  • Worry that admitting to these states may make them appear incompetent or unreliable.

Response:

  • Establish what the state at encoding was – but do not dismiss memory.
  • Use memory-enhancing techniques (mental reinstatement of context, open-questions, free report).
  • Avoid leading questions, option-posing, suggestions.

Memory retrieval

Example:

  • It happened so many times I’m not sure what exactly happened on the occasion.

Explanation:

  • Difficulties with particularisation of a single instance when distinguishing between similar events (e.g., repeated abuse, domestic violence).
  • Problems identifying source of a particular memory (source monitoring).

Response:

  • Ensure clarity when questioning about repeated events.
  • Use methods that might assist discrimination between repeated events (specific dates, times, details or temporal placing, i.e., ‘the time before last’).
  • Seek particularisation (if relevant).

Interview Context

Expectation & second guessing

Example:

  • I think I was wrong on a previous answer so I don’t want to get it wrong again.
  • The information I have contradicts or doesn’t fit with what you have told me/implied, so I don’t want to say.
  • I saw/recall something, but several people are being interviewed and I want to avoid being contradicted by another source.

Explanation:

  • Interviewees may feel embarrassed/worried they have provided incorrect information; go along with interviewer (or fabricate) to avoid conflict.
  • Interviewees make assumptions about what the interviewers think/know.

Response:

  • Develop rapport and trust, highlighting the benefits of disclosed information.
  • Use metacognitive evaluations (confidence evaluations).
  • Assure that their account is important and people can witness/observe things in different ways.
  • Normalise error (e.g., acknowledge that task is difficult and errors may occur).

Download the infographic here: 18-032-01

For a more detailed breakdown on each category click here where you can download a poster for each section, or see all the posters together here.

Lorraine Hope is a CREST Researcher and Professor of Applied Cognitive Psychology at the University of Portsmouth.

This mindmap was first published in CREST Security Review, issue 7, Winter 2018, Transitions.

This mindmap is produced under a Creative Commons 4.0 BY-NC-SA licence. This means you are allowed to use them, with attribution, but we’d also love to know where and how you are using them so please let us know by emailing us at info@crestresearch.ac.uk.

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