This study created a model called the "Interrogation Game" to test the differences between how knowledgeable and ignorant sources react when faced with both coercive and rewarding interrogators. The primary purpose of the study was to determine when detainees provide accurate information to interrogators. The study also highlighted the importance of understanding when detainees truthfully tell interrogators that they do not know the desired information. The authors, David Blake Johnson and John Barry Ryan, acknowledge both the lack and necessity of research on the efficacy of interrogation within the intelligence community. Johnson and Ryan argue that both knowledgeable and ignorant sources have the ability to provide inaccurate information, and that interrogators are unable to decipher the difference between the two during an interrogation. If a detainee is truly ignorant, then further interrogation may only lead to false information.
The "Interrogation Game" model identifies a coercive interrogator as one who reduces a detainee's utility for not providing accurate information, and a rewarding interrogator as someone who provides a detainee with utility gains in exchange for accurate information. To test the differences between the two, this study performed an experiment using 160 Florida State University students in ten sessions each. During each session the participants were divided into groups of four. Each group was assigned a playing card, which could only be one of the four aces. Two participants within each group were given the identity of the card, while the other two were given no information. The "interrogator" in the experiment consisted of a computer that prompted a random participant to identify the group's card. The participants received different earnings depending on the type of interrogator. Most importantly, ignorant participants (participants who were asked to reveal the card but did not know the card's identity) who truthfully stated "I don't know" to the rewarding interrogator received the same amount of earnings as the other participants. However, ignorant participants who truthfully stated "I don't know" to the coercive interrogator received less earnings than the other participants. In other words, the coercive interrogator punished participants for not knowing the identity of the card.
The study found that ignorant participants truthfully responded "I don't know" to the coercive interrogator 12.5% of the time, whereas ignorant participants truthfully responded "I don't know" to the rewarding interrogator 32.5% of the time. Johnson and Ryan explain that this is because revealing the truth to a rewarding interrogator leads to a fair outcome, whereas telling the truth to a coercive interrogator leads to an unfair outcome. In turn, the study found that participants revealed the incorrect card to the coercive interrogator 43.8% of the time, which was 7.1% more often than the amount of times the incorrect card was revealed to the rewarding interrogator. This is because participants were more willing to admit to not knowing the identity of the card to a rewarding interrogator than they were to a coercive interrogator. Johnson and Ryan concluded that not only did the participants tell the truth less frequently to coercive interrogators, but the ignorant participants were also less likely to reveal their ignorance to coercive interrogators.
This study was confusing to understand at first due to the several assumptions and details included in its model. Johnson and Ryan incorporate multiple formulas and theories that add to this confusion, though they also seem to increase the model's reliability. A major concern, though, is the lack of reality mixed in with the experiment. Johnson and Ryan mention how torture is a form of interrogation, but it is hard to truly view this experiment as a form of "coercive interrogation". This is not to say that it cannot be applied to real-life torture situations, but it is difficult to see a complete connection.
Johnson, D. B., & Ryan, J.B. (2015). The interrogation game: Using coercion and rewards to elicit information from groups. Journal of Peace Research, 52(6), 822-837. Retrieved from: http://jpr.sagepub.com/content/52/6/822.full.pdf