Facing away from the interviewer
: evidence of little effect on eyewitnesses’ memory performance and perceptions of rapport

  • Alena Nash

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Averting one’s gaze is generally found to improve cognitive performance by reducing environmental distraction. Witnesses are sometimes advised to close their eyes or avert their gaze from the interviewer’s face to help them concentrate on remembering, but to my knowledge no research has explored the latter approach in an investigative interviewing context. Therefore, in a series of five experiments, this thesis investigated eyewitness recall under various gaze direction conditions. Experiments 1-4 employed the same procedure whereby participants witnessed a video-recorded incident and were consequently interviewed following a short delay. In Experiment 1, participants either faced the interviewer or faced away during the interview. In Experiment 2, alongside this manipulation of witness’s gaze direction, the interviewer’s gaze direction was also manipulated - the interviewer either faced the witness or faced away during the interview. In Experiment 3, in addition to the manipulation of witness’s gaze direction, rapport-building was included as another variable (rapport vs. no rapport). As minimal benefits of facing away by the witness were found across these experiments, in Experiment 4, this technique was compared to witness eye-closure. Both techniques affected memory performance similarly, with benefit to correct responding in free recall only. To summarise and assess the cumulative effects of witness gaze direction, a series of mini meta-analyses was conducted on data across Experiments 1-4. These analyses showed small and non-significant effects of witness gaze direction overall, but there were some benefits in closed questioning when rapport-building was included as a moderator. Finally, in Experiment 5, witness gaze direction and eye-closure were explored using a picture memory task (with different levels of difficulty). No differences between the two techniques were found. Taken together, these findings show minimal evidence for benefits of facing away and warrant caution against overestimating the likely effects of eyewitness gaze aversion in effective interviewing.
Date of Award2019
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorRobert A. Nash (Supervisor) & Nathan Ridout (Supervisor)


  • eyewitness memory
  • investigative interviewing
  • gaze aversion
  • rapport-building
  • eye-closure

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