Ethically Investigating Torture Efficacy: A New Methodology to Test the Influence of Physical Pain on Decision-Making Processes in Experimental Interrogation Scenarios

Shannon C. Houck, Lucian Gideon Conway

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

Torture's effectiveness is a frequently debated yet under-researched topic. This article describes a new experimental method to ethically investigate one component of torture: The influence of physical pain on people's decisions to reveal secret or false information. In particular, participants played a game that was designed to be a proxy of an interrogation scenario. As part of the game, participants were instructed to keep specific information hidden from an opponent while their hand was submerged in varying temperatures of ice water (a cold pressor test that causes pain). Further, their opponent (actually a confederate) verbally pressured them to reveal the information. Participants could choose to give false information to their opponent, true information, or a combination of both. Results suggested the potential usefulness of this method to examine the effectiveness of using pain for information retrieval in a scenario similar to interrogation: Analyses revealed that participants were more likely to reveal false information when exposed to the cold pressor test, and this effect became more pronounced as manipulated water temperatures became colder (from 10 degrees to 5 degrees to 1 degree). This study offers a methodological advance on a challenging topic to research, and can inform our understanding of the efficacy of physical pain as an information retrieval tool.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)510-524
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Applied Security Research
Volume10
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2 2015

Keywords

  • Torture efficacy, physical pain, decision-making, interrogation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Safety Research
  • Law

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