A Suggestive Question is one that implies that a certain answer should be given in response, or falsely presents a presupposition in the question as accepted fact. Such a question distorts the memory thereby tricking the person into answering in a specific way that might or might not be true or consistent with their actual feelings, and can be deliberate or unintentional. For example, the phrasing “Don’t you think this was wrong?” is more suggestive than “Do you think this was wrong?” despite the difference of only one word. The former may subtly pressure the respondent into responding “yes,” whereas the latter is far more direct. Repeated questions can make people think their first answer is wrong and lead them to change their answer, or it can cause people to continuously answer until the interrogator gets the exact response that they desire. The diction used by the interviewer can also be an influencing factor to the response given by the interrogated individual.

Types of Suggestive Questions:

Direct questions

Direct questions lead to one word answers when explanations are sometimes needed. This could include questions like “Do you get it?” and “Where did it happen?” According to Dr. Kathy Kellermann, an expert in persuasion and communication, direct questions force exact responses through carefully worded questions.

Repeated questions

Repeated questions elicit certain types of answers. Repeated questions make people think their first answer was wrong, lead them to change their answer, or cause people to keep answering until the interrogator gets the exact response that they desire. Elizabeth Loftus states that errors in answers are dramatically reduced if a question is only asked once.

Forced choice questions

Yes/no or forced choice questions like “is this yellow or green?” force people to choose between two choices when the answer could be neither of the choices or needs more explanation. This generates more “interviewer-talks” moments, where the interviewer is talking and controlling most of the interview. This type of question is also known as a false dilemma.

Presumptuous questions

Presumptuous questions can either be balanced or unbalanced. Unbalanced questions ask questions only from the point of view of one side of an argument. For example, an interrogator might ask “’Do you favor the death penalty for persons convicted of murder?”’ This question assumes that the person’s only point of view in the situation is that a person who is convicted must either get the death penalty or not. The second type of presumptuous question is balanced question. This is when the interrogator uses opposite questions to make the witness believe that the question is balanced when the reality is that it is not. For example, the interrogator would ask, “’Do you favor life in prison, without the possibility of parole?”’ This type of question may seem balanced when in reality it is still influencing the person to discuss life in prison and no other choice.

Confirmatory questions

Confirmatory questioning leads to answers that can only support a certain point. Here, the interviewer forces the person to make sure his or her answers make them out to be extroverted or introverted. If they want them to look extroverted they would ask questions like “How do you make a party more fun?” and “When are you talkative?” If they want the person to look introverted they ask questions like “Have you ever been left out of a group?” or “Can you be more hyper sometimes?”.

Experimental research by psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has established that trying to answer such questions can create confabulation in eyewitnesses. For example, participants in an experiment may all view the same video clip of a car crash. Participants are assigned at random in one of two groups. The participants in the first group are asked “How fast was the car moving when it passed by the stop sign?” The participants in the other group are asked a similar question that does not refer to a stop sign. Later, the participants from the first group are more likely to remember seeing a stop sign in the video clip, even though there was in fact no such sign. Such findings have been replicated and raise serious questions about the validity of information elicited through poorly phrased questions during eyewitness testimony.

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