Abstract of Talk: Suggestibility in adults with intellectual disabilities: clinical and criminal implications

The concept of suggestibility, a tendency to be influenced by others’ suggestions, is often viewed from a criminal perspective – specifically the degree to which confessions or witness accounts may be influenced by the questions asked and the inter-personal situation in which a person is placed. Intellectual disability, in itself, has been viewed as increasing suggestibility substantially, thereby leading to the accounts of people with intellectual disabilities to be challenged within court or, indeed, cases not to proceed. However, common methods for the assessment of suggestibility in this population have been criticised. Suggestibility is not just important in relation to criminal proceedings; it may have a substantive effect within other inter-personal settings, such as the process of cognitive assessment. Outcomes from such assessments can have a profound influence in a number of areas, ranging from diagnosis of intellectual disability to assessments of capacity. Furthermore, additional factors such as mood, expectation and motivation will also influence outcomes; yet, these are concepts that may be forgotten when the focus is upon disability. Suggestibility is a complex phenomenon, but is perhaps of most substantive importance for those with intellectual disabilities. At present, the literature in this area – for this population – lacks clarity and there is a need for future, careful work in order to understand potential influences on suggestibility and find a means to assess this at an individual level.