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How do I apply a psychology degree to the field of security?

The Role of Human Psychology in Security Interviews and Police Investigations

In spite of what TV shows like CSI and its spin-offs would like us to believe, real-life police investigations are rarely solved using breakthrough technology found in forensic laboratories. Although a scientific investigation of a crime scene can provide numerous clues, as well as physical evidence necessary to convict the perpetrator in a court of law, the analysis of samples will typically take a very long time. On average, forensic laboratories of state law enforcement agencies take about 30 days to process DNA samples, and some areas suffer from such debilitating backlogs and budgetary problems that the process may often take several months. In fact, it is still old-fashioned police work that brings 90% of all investigations to a successful completion within the first 48 hours. Modern police detectives, federal special agents, and other law enforcement and private security personnel receive training and rely on principles of psychology, human behavior, and social interactions, to find persons of interest and produce arrests. Today, we shall examine the role of the psychological sciences in police investigations, and how a degree in psychology may help prepare an individual for employment in the fields of law enforcement and private security.

Interviews, Police Interrogations and Confessions
Virtually every single person on the planet has found him or herself on the unpleasant end of a questioning, meant to ascertain their role or guilt. Typically, these types of interviews were carried out by their parents or school teachers, whenever there was some indication of wrongdoing. Even though these individuals often had no formal training in the art, they were still remarkably efficient in extracting information thanks to their strong position of authority. At the same time, as the children would get older, the adults’ ability to produce a “confession” would gradually diminish over time. However, this change was not a result of the young adult’s somehow becoming resistant to suggestion or persuasion, but because the “amateur” interviewers had no idea how to recreate that aura of authority they once had. In fact, numerous psychological studies have demonstrated that the interviewee’s perception is malleable, and a skilled interrogator will be able to eventually extract information from a suspect in spite of any initial hesitation, or even open resistance. More importantly, the information can often be obtained without the individual being questioned ever realizing they are being complaint, not to mention feeling they are under any type of psychological duress.

The Human Response During Interrogations
The trick to becoming an efficient interrogator lies in the knowledge of human psychology, and its multiple subtleties. Some police interrogation techniques – like the “good cop, bad cop” for example – are widely known, but only a fraction of people actually understands the psychology behind it. In the case of the “good cop, bad cop” strategy, the duo of investigators relies on contradicting notions of empathy (good cop) and antipathy (bad cop), and the human mind’s desire for acceptance and understanding, directing the suspect towards the interrogator representing the positive side of the psychological spectrum. Of course, the “good cop, bad cop” is just one of the examples of how a trained investigator can steer the human response to produce a confession, but greater their knowledge of human psychology the more methods and techniques the interrogator will have at their disposal.

Cognitive Interviews
Another psychological principle widely used during cognitive interviews by experienced investigators, and covered in college psychology courses, is memory recollection. The theory behind the technique was originally developed by two professors of psychology: Ronald P. Fisher and R. Edward Geiselman, at the UCLA Department of Psychology in 1984. The study demonstrated that witnesses of crimes are like sponges of information, even though they may not realize it themselves. More importantly, the researchers demonstrated that using what has now become known as a cognitive interview may allow investigators to acquire the important information. The results were remarkable, and individuals were on average able to recall 40% more information than the witnesses that were subject to standard interviews, and 30% more information considered critical to the case.

Private and Corporate Security
The role of psychology in interviews is certainly not limited to police interrogations, and individuals with psychology degrees will actually find numerous opportunities in the private security field. In fact, all large corporations in the United States have huge teams of security personnel on their payroll, who specialize in conducting interviews of candidates applying for executive positions, resolving of in-company disagreements, and various additional background investigations. Some companies, especially those with active defense contracts from the federal government, will place an enormous emphasis on security and their staff of interviewers will often include several individuals with psychology and forensic psychology degrees, in addition to individuals who only have practical experience. Given the enormous responsibility, the salaries of private security personnel employed as professional interviewers will usually be very high, often being very close to – or even exceeding – six-figures right from the start. Ultimately, applicants hoping to land a position will often have to demonstrate their skill and expertise, as well as go through the thorough interview process themselves.

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Find Your School is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.