When the officer begins it becomes clear to you that

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When the officer begins, it becomes clear to you that you do not have an answer for every question. Should you tell her that you do not know, or should you give your best guess? When you hesitate, the officer encourages you to respond. This vignette illustrates one form of pressure that witnesses may experience during questioning. Investigators often discourage interviewees from using “don’t know” (DK) responses (Dent & Stephenson, 1979; Schreiber, Bellah, Martinez, McLaurin, & Strok, 2006; Schreiber-Compo, Gregory, & Fisher, 2012; Warnick & Sanders, 1980). DK responses are sometimes explicitly prohibited and sometimes implicitly deterred, for example, by repeating questions (Krähenbühl, Blades, & Westcott, 2010; LaRooy & Lamb, 2011; Register & Kihlstrom, 1988). Conversely, when DK responses are permitted interviewers may assume that there is no information to obtain. However, DK responses sometimes convey useful information. The current research considers how attention to DK responses affects the amount and quality of information gathered via questioning. Two studies examined how instructions that encourage or discourage the use of DK responses influence the amount and quality of the information obtained, and how such instructions relate to the meanings of DK responses. In the following sections the potential influences of encouraging versus discouraging DK responses and the issue of heterogeneity in the meanings of DK responses are examined. Should Interviewers Permit DK Responses? One option for handling DK responses is to not to allow them at all. This is what Koriat and Goldsmith (1996) termed forced response : respondents answer all questions, even if they
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ENCOURAGING AND CLARIFYING DON’T KNOW RESPONSES… 4 must guess. They demonstrated that when individuals must respond to all question, output (the number of questions attempted) is artificially maximized while accuracy is undermined. Similarly, forced confabulation (requiring responses to questions with no answer) undermines the accuracy of reports (Chrobak & Zaragoza, 2008). We note that in some circumstances forcing responses may be desirable. This is often the case in educational testing (Mondak & Davies, 2001), where the goal is to determine what has been learned about a known body of knowledge. When the goal is to assess the total contents of memory, requiring answers to all questions is effective when the exact information is known and error rates are estimable. Such conditions are rarely met in the interviewing domain. Hence, in the witness context, as forced responding increases, the degree to which any single response can be assumed to be correct decreases. As a result, witnesses must be given the latitude to choose to answer or not answer questions. People often do this is by making DK responses (Scoboria, Mazzoni, Kirsch, & Milling, 2002; Waterman, Blades, & Spencer, 2004).
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  • Fall '17
  • Jane Moore
  • Centrifugation, Journal of Experimental Psychology, Fourteen unanswerable questions, dk responses, Alan Scoboria

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