The Effects and Effectiveness of Using Torture as an Interrogation Device: Using Research to Inform the Policy Debate


Journal Article

Governments sometimes characterize torture as an indispensable interrogation tool for gathering strategic intelligence. In this article, we review the relevant social scientific research on the effectiveness, impact, and causes of torture. First, we summarize research on false confessions and examine the relevance of that research for torture-based interrogations. Next, we review research on the mental health consequences of torture for survivors and perpetrators. Finally, we explore the social-psychological conditions that promote acts of cruelty (such as those seen at Abu Ghraib) and examine the arguments typically offered to justify the use of torture. We argue that any hypothesized benefits from the use of torture must be weighed against the substantial proven costs of torture. These costs include the unreliable information extracted through interrogations using torture, the mental and emotional toll on victims and torturers, loss of international stature and credibility, and the risk of retaliation against soldiers and civilians. © 2009 The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Costanzo, MA; Gerrity, E

Published Date

  • December 1, 2009

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 3 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 179 - 210

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1751-2409

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1751-2395

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1111/j.1751-2409.2009.01014.x

Citation Source

  • Scopus