Bright Lights and Interrogation

What’s the origin of the police shining a bright light at a suspect in a darkened room as part of an interrogation? I see this frequently in old movies. :rolleyes: Was this technique really used by police?

Except for the fact that it would be incredibly annoying, is there any reason why it would make someone talk? I would think that refusing someone a bathroom break would be just as effective… :dubious:

If the interrogator didn’t want to be identified it would prevent the subject from picking out any identifying features. This would be more appropriate for clandestine interrogations rather than police interviews. Whether it really happened or not, I don’t know, but that is one reasons why it might happen in the right circumstances.

It’s also disorienting… squinting at a bright light can be very unsettling and it makes it hard to lie convincingly.

When you think there’s a credible liklihood the 1, or 2, or maybe 4 guys behind that light will kick the crap outta you, that uncertainty has got to wear on you a bit.

This is why bad guys always wear sunglasses.

I have a feeling it’s just another thing made up by the TV and movie people.

Try watching an episode of The First 48 on A & E. It’s filmed in various large cities, and every episode I’ve ever seen has an interrogation.

The interviews generally take place in a small, well-lit room with either no windows, or one window facing a common area. There’s usually nothing more than a table and two or three chairs.

Newer police buildings seem to have a table especially designed for detained people, including a pole to which the person can be handcuffed, but still sit in reasonable comfort and face the interviewer.

The older police buildings seem to have interrogation rooms with older tables and seating, but that’s about it.

Generally, these interviews are videotaped, so poor lighting is probably out of the question anyway.

Ah, I found one for you:

Also, I would guess that in older times florescent lighting wasn’t widely available, and perhaps every structure (not just police stations) might have had poorly-distributed light provided by just a few hanging incandescent fixtures.

Just to add some context, I was watching the 1940 movie “His Girl Friday” starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, and at one point the murder suspect is being questioned about his crime. He is placed in a room with a huge incandescent lamp facing him. The sheriff then dims the overhead lights and the large lamp is turned on, almost blinding the suspect. The light clearly makes him uncomfortable, but it could hardly be considered torture.

Now this is a movie, so what happens may be unrelated to what happens in real life. However this “bright light” interrogation technique is so widely used in movies I doubt that some screenwriter made it up out of whole cloth. It’s often used with the term “third degree”, but I can’t find anything that talks about giving someone the third degree and shining a bright light in their face to make them talk.

Regarding the design of modern police interrogation rooms, I doubt that anyone would use this technique today nor would anyone beat a suspect with a rubber hose in order to get a confession…

I was in this situation once, during my college days, after making what was alleged to be making death threats against someone I didn’t get along with (basically, a roommate and I sent this dude comically absurd death threats - obviously, we were drunk and bored). Next day, a State Trooper shows up at the school wanting to talk to me. He questioned me in what I guess was the boiler room of the dormitory, with me directly under one of those lights.

The light was annoying, but I didn’t lose my sense of humor over the situation; that ultimately convinced the Trooper that he wasn’t dealing with a homicide-in-the-making. It ended with him telling me to call the "victim"s father and explaining that it was all a lark (and DO NOT CALL THE VICTIM). Dutiful (and semi-inebriated) citizen that I was, I promptly called his father at 3am, and told him his son was a pussy.

There are contemporary references to the use of “blinding lights” in the third degree, or police torture.

Police-Induced Confessions: Risk Factors and Recommendations, by Saul M. Kassin, Steven A. Drizin, Thomas Grisso, Gisli H. Gudjonsson, Richard A. Leo, Allison D. Redlich

Googling also finds these:

Unfortunately you have to pay for the full article.

The point to remember was that the light was *blinding *and impossible to stand without pain. It wasn’t a simple movie situation of turning a desk lamp toward the perp.

Bright lights are also used for sleep deprivation, but they tend to be flood lights rather than a single beam in a dark room.