Cognitive Interview


Cognitive Interview

Upon review of psychological memory research and police interview techniques, Geiselman et al (1985) identified a number of ways that standard police interview methodology could negatively affect eye witnesses' recall accuracy of crimes.

For example, police questioning techniques often prompted regular jumps between memory modalities (such as describing physical appearances and recalling dialogue) and event recall in a non-chronological order.

Geiselman et al therefore integrated effective memory recall techniques into a new questioning methodology - the cognitive interview - to achieve more detailed and accurate eye witness testimonies.

At the start of a cognitive interview, the interviewer attempts to help the witness feel relaxed, and seeks to tailor their language to suit the individual. The witness is then encouraged to recreate their internal and external conditions at the scene (e.g. the mood they were in, the weather, etc.), recalling the event backwards and forwards in time, and recalling it from other people's perspectives. The interviewer aims to be non-judgemental and avoids personal comments throughout.

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Cognitive Interview (cont.)

The interview focuses on utilising retrieval cue, as Geiselman et al claimed that recalling details of an event in a variety of different contexts is key to 'curing' retrieval of a large amount of accurate information from memory - which the standard police interview was restrictive in doing.

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Context Reinstatement

The witness is asked to mentally reconstruct the physical (external) and personal (internal) contexts which existed at the time of the crime. The interviewer can help witnesses recreate context by asking them to form a mental image of the original scene. For example: the location, emotional reactions, smells, sounds, and physical conditions.

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Report Everything

The witness is asked to report everything, even if it seems irrelevant. This technique may yield information that may be valuable in putting together details from different witnesses to the same crime.

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Recall from Changed Perspective

The witness is asked for recall from a changed perspective. For example: to place themselves in the shoes of the victim or of another witness and to report what they have seen from that viewpoint.

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Recall in Reverse Order

The witness is asked to recall information from different starting points: the end, the middle, or from the most memorable event and work forward or backwards from this point. This reduces the effects of post-event discussion as it is harder to produce inaccurate information when recalling in reverse order.

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Strengths of the Cognitive Interview

+ Fisher et al (1990) found that witnesses reported greater detail in their accounts of crimes when American detectives had been trained to use the technique.

+ The technique is more structured than the standard technique, and it seems appropriate for crime-related interviews to be very thorough in order to gather the detail required for a useful testimony.

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Weaknesses of the Cognitive Interview

- Koehnken et al (1999) found that witnesses recalled more incorrect information when interviewed with the cognitive interview compared to the standard interview technique, perhaps because more detailed recall increases the chances of making mistakes. 

- The interview is far more time-consuming than the standard interview.

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