Lesson Five: Characteristics of Human Nature

There are certain characteristics of human nature that an investigator must appreciate in order to conduct a quality investigation. These general principles can be used to the investigator’s advantage if they recognize what is occurring and adjust their strategy accordingly.

A. People May Lie

1. Reasons for Lying

An investigator should not be surprised when a witness or suspect lies during the course of the investigation. Both may have good reason(s) to lie and may include any or all of the following:

a. Freedom
b. Money
c. Reputation
d. Protection

2. Maintaining Self-Control

If the investigator becomes upset or morally offended because someone is lying to him or her, the investigator loses effectiveness. The investigator must always maintain a high level of professionalism and never lose their self control. Once the investigator shows their own emotional vulnerability, the suspect gains the upper hand.
If an investigator loses control when someone lies, the next time they must talk to this person, he/she will have lost some degree of rapport. This can be interpreted by the person as a weakness on the part of the investigator. It can also effect whatever rapport the investigator and suspect may have developed. The loss of this rapport can seriously impede the investigator’s efforts to obtain additional information, or even a confession. A good investigator simply realizes that being lied to is an inevitable part of doing business as an investigator.

B. Man Is a Creature of Habit

This is a very important characteristic of human behavior for investigators. The use of Modus Operandi (MO) is based on this principle. It is the outward behavior, not the mental processes.

C. Personal Emotions

There is no typical person or typical personality. A person’s occupation, upbringing, and/or personality can run the entire gamut of humanity. Lawyers, doctors, and ministers can all have suspicious behavior. If the investigator is morally offended by the actions of the person and reveals this fact, the lines of communication may shut down. Regardless of how heinous the actions are, the investigator must always act in a professional manner and not allow their emotions to be exposed to the person they are investigating.

For example, an investigator might be faced with interviewing a suspected child molester. Although the investigator will probably find this act to be repulsive and disgusting, he/she cannot reveal their true feelings to the suspect, particularly if they expect to engage him/her in incriminating dialogue. Even if an investigator has an intense dislike of the suspect, because he/she has committed an indecent act with a child or has committed some other terrible crime, the investigator must still treat the person with respect and dignity. To do anything less would be a poor reflection on all investigators, and will surely eliminate the possibility for any meaningful questioning since the suspect will probably form an instant dislike for the investigator. By failing to project a professional image, the investigator can quickly become ineffective when dealing with the suspect.

D. Personal Bias

Personal bias is a factor that all investigators must take into account as they go about their work. Everyone has their own personal biases which influence them in their everyday lives. Often, we are unaware of the influence that our biases have on our actions and decisions. Frequently, this influence occurs without us being aware of it.
Personal bias simply means that you probably do not like the same things that the person sitting next to you likes. Many times, it is simply an opinion, not necessarily based on a scientific fact or a study. In other words, sometimes you simply like or dislike something without being able to articulate why. However, the most common bias is one based on personal preference, for whatever reason.

Witnesses can often transfer their own bias or preference into an investigation, sometimes inadvertently. A person may unconsciously slant his/her account of what happened, without even recognizing that their own personal bias is influencing their perception.

Everyone is biased in some manner, and a good investigator should not be surprised when a person gives an account which is substantially different than other witnesses.
The person may not be trying to directly lie to the investigator. It is simply a fact of life that some individuals see things slightly different than others. Bias is one reason this occurs.

In an identical manner, an investigator’s personal preference or bias-type feelings can also be transferred to an investigation. Care must always be exercised by the investigator to ensure that opinions, decisions, and observations are never tainted by the investigator’s own personal bias.

E. Group Perception

Personal biases shape the way people view things by having them focus on certain elements while screening out others. To this same end, one can most likely draw the logical conclusion that groups of people with like backgrounds tend to see things the same. As discussed above, certain individuals will notice or experience events based on their personal interests and backgrounds.

In a similar fashion, persons who have similar experiences and backgrounds tend to develop common beliefs or attitudes. These attitudes cause them to filter out certain types of information and become highly sensitive to other types of information. This is due to common experiences, age, professional backgrounds, education, or socialization.

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