How does evaluator empathy impact a forensic interview? [2018]

We used an experimental design to test the key concern that expressive empathy from evaluators during forensic interviews leads to more disclosure of misbehavior (e.g., stealing, breaking the law, manipulating others) from evaluees. In the context of a psychopathy assessment interview, evaluees (N = 94, 100% male, 57.4% Caucasian) interviewed by an evaluator using expressive empathy techniques were no more likely than those interviewed by an evaluator avoiding expressive empathy techniques to admit to past instances of misbehavior (d = .17, 95% CI [−.24, .57]). Instead, the use of expressive empathy techniques seemed to influence evaluator perceptions of the evaluees. Evaluators using expressive empathy rated evaluees as less psychopathic (d = −.52, 95% CI [−.93, −.11]), more conscientious (d = .72, 95% CI [.30, 1.13]), and as having engaged in less impression management (d = −.54, 95% CI [−.95, −.13]) than evaluators avoiding the use of expressive empathy. Put simply, when evaluators expressed empathy, it influenced the evaluator, not the evaluee. These findings suggest the need to expand professional discourse and research on empathy in forensic evaluations to better understand the possible effects of evaluator empathy on both evaluators and evaluees.

Vera, L. M., Boccaccini, M. T., Laxton, K., Bryson, C., Pennington, C., Ridge, B., & Murrie, D. C.

Law and Human Behavior, 2018