Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.
Julie is a lawyer. She became a lawyer because she wants to find the truth. When she's interviewing witnesses or cross-examining defendants, she has that goal in mind: find the truth. But lately, she's worried that the questions she's asking could keep her from getting the whole truth.
The reason Julie is worrying is because she's recently heard about acquiescence bias, also sometimes called acquiescence response bias, which occurs when people are likely to agree with a statement or answer a yes/no question with a yes. For example, if Julie asks a witness, ''Did the person you saw have on a green shirt,'' the witness is more likely to say yes than no, even if they don't remember. This doesn't mean that the witnesses are lying, only that there's a tendency to agree with people.
The acquiescence bias could happen for many reasons, including the fact that people want others to like them, and being agreeable is likeable. It could also be that the way Julie asks a question (like, ''Did the person have on a green shirt?'') could cause someone to remember incorrectly.
Whatever the case, Julie needs to know more about how the acquiescence bias works in the legal and criminal justice fields, so that she can try to avoid it. To help her out, let's look at how acquiescence bias can occur in testimony and cross-examination.
Testimony & Cross-Examination
As we've seen, Julie is really concerned about acquiescence bias. She worries because when she asks a question of a witness or defendant, the acquiescence bias might lead her to get a yes answer, regardless of what the real truth is.
If Julie was unscrupulous, she could use the acquiescence bias to her advantage. For example, she could ask lots of yes/no questions and try to get the person on the stand to give her the answers she wants. But if she really wants the truth (and she does!), Julie will want to be very careful about how she asks things.
For one thing, she'll want to ask open-ended questions. These are questions that don't have a yes or no answer. For example, Julie could ask the witness, ''What color shirt did the person you saw wear?'' This is very different from asking, ''Did the person you saw have on a green shirt?'' In the open-ended question, the witness is less likely to fall victim to acquiescence bias and just agree with her, even if they aren't sure.
Another thing for Julie to think about is not communicating what answer she wants to hear. For example, she might smile and nod automatically if a witness answers her question about the shirt by saying ''green.'' Alternatively, she might frown (even without meaning to) if the witness says something else. That would communicate what she wants to hear, and the witness might change their statement based on wanting to please Julie.
Finally, Julie will want to be extra aware when she's questioning children. Children are particularly susceptible to acquiescence bias, so extra caution is necessary. Keeping her face and tone of voice very neutral, and asking them carefully crafted, open-ended questions can help keep them from falling victim to acquiescence bias.
Acquiescence bias, which is also called acquiescence response bias, occurs when people are likely to agree with a statement or answer a yes/no question with a yes. Acquiescence bias could happen for many reasons, including the fact that people want others to like them, and that they remember incorrectly.
In the legal and criminal justice field, acquiescence bias can influence the way that a defendant or witness answers questions. To avoid acquiescence bias in testimony, lawyers and others should ask open-ended questions, which do not have a yes or no answer. They should also avoid communicating approval or disapproval at answers. Finally, because children are especially susceptible to acquiescence bias, questioning them should be approached with extra caution.
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