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Cognitive Interview

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Cognitive Interview

The cognitive interview technique is a method of police questioning used for more effective memory recall in eyewitnesses of crime. Research suggested that traditional methods of police questioning negatively impacted the accuracy of eyewitnesses’ memory recall. The unreliability of eyewitness testimony was also a concern in several aspects of memory recall.

The cognitive interview technique was created by Geiselman et al. (1985) in response to these issues. The technique uses four principles designed to enhance memory recall of eyewitness accounts by using several memory retrieval methods.

What are the four principles of the cognitive interview technique?

The four principles of the cognitive interview technique are outlined below.

Mental reinstatement

The technique starts by asking the eyewitness to recall the general surroundings and context of the crime. The interviewer may ask what the eyewitness was wearing at the time, what they were thinking and how they felt. They may also ask about the weather and for accounts of the eyewitness’ senses. Were there any memorable smells? Was the area well lit? Did they hear any strange sounds?

This is used to help bring the eyewitness back to the environment and context of the crime, which may strengthen their recollection of the crime. This may also encourage the recollection of context-dependent memories. This technique is based on the principle of retrieval failure.

Cognitive Interview Mental reinstatement context-dependent memories StudySmarterRemembering details such as activities, surroundings and emotions can help with context-dependent memories, Shikha Shah - StudySmarter Originals

If the lady in the above image was an eyewitness to a crime in a café, she may report that on the day, she was excited to have coffee with her friend after a long time and was worried that she may need an umbrella because it looked like it could rain. She may also report smelling fresh bakery products coming out from the café kitchen. These are examples of details that could help mental reinstatement.

Report everything

Eyewitnesses are asked to give a report of every single detail, no matter how insignificant it may seem. This is because small pieces of information may lead to key information recall about the crime. This technique is also based on retrieval failure.

For example, in reference to the above image of the lady, she could report an incident of the waiter spilling a drink on one of the customers in a café, the colourful clothing worn by the person sitting next to her and the breed of the dog barking outside. These are examples of reporting everything.

Recall the incident in different orders

Eyewitnesses are asked to tell their account in a different order, such as backwards from the end of the crime to the beginning. In this way, people are less likely to use schema when recalling events to construct a story that makes sense. Another advantage if witnesses recall in reverse order is the recency effect which suggests that recall may be clearer for more recent events.

The lady in the image could be asked to recall the event from when the criminal left the bakery, backwards until when they entered the bakery.

Recall from a changed perspective

Eyewitnesses are then asked to give an account of the crime from another perspective, such as the perspectives of other eyewitnesses. This also lessens the influence of schema.

Following our example of the lady in the image, she could report seeing the crime from the perspective of the waiter behind the counter, who had a frontal and direct view. She could describe how the crime may have looked to someone from far away.

The four principles above aim to use memory retrieval cues by recalling details of the context surrounding the crime. Geiselman stated that by recalling information from different contexts and perspectives, eyewitnesses can better cue a larger amount of accurate memories.

In the early 1990s, researchers added to the cognitive interview, creating the enhanced cognitive interview (ECI). The ECI maintains the same principles as the cognitive interview technique; however, the ECI also examines how other social factors affect report accuracy.

A study found that witnesses' attitudes and motivations towards the interview affect the quality of their reporting. This includes how the witness perceives the appropriateness of the interview procedure.

It was found that the higher the perception of the interview appropriateness, the more detailed their reports and the better their attitude was towards being interviewed.

The ECI has been widely accepted as one of the most successful and effective techniques for enhancing eyewitnesses' memory recall.

Cognitive interview technique: Geiselman et al. (1985) study

In the following, we will consider the study itself and assess its efficiency for eyewitness memory recall.

Aim

The study aimed to test the effectiveness of the cognitive interview technique in the memory recall of eyewitnesses. The researchers wanted to compare the efficiency of this technique to the standard interview and the hypnosis interview techniques.

Method

Eighty-nine participants were shown a video of a violent crime. Around 48 hours later, a law enforcement professional (policeman, private detective) used one of three different methods to interview the participants. These were:

  • The cognitive interview technique.

  • The standard interview technique used by Los Angeles police officers.

  • The hypnosis interview technique.

The interviewers noted the number of facts recalled accurately, the number of inaccuracies and the number of made up details by the participants.

Results and conclusion

Results showed that there was significantly more accurate memory recall from eyewitnesses with the cognitive interview and the hypnosis interview. Participants recalled a significantly higher number of correct facts using these method; the standard interview technique produced the lowest number of accurately recalled facts.

However, even though these two techniques both resulted in more accurate eyewitness memory, the cognitive technique is easier to train law enforcement professionals in.

Cognitive interview technique: Fisher et al. (1989)

Fisher et al. (1989) study is a field experiment that tested the effectiveness of the cognitive interview technique. We will go through the aim, method, results and conclusions of the study.

Cognitive Interview Fisher et al. StudySmarterFisher et al. (1989) study was a field experiment involving police officers, Shikha Shah - StudySmarter Originals

Aim

Researchers aimed to test the effectiveness of the cognitive interview technique in real-life situations involving police officers.

Method

16 police detectives from Florida took part in this study. Detectives were first asked to record some interviews using their standard interview techniques. After this, seven police detectives were trained to implement the cognitive interview technique, while nine used standard police interview technique. All detectives had a minimum of 5 years' experience.

Over the next seven months, the interviews conducted by both groups were recorded and then analysed.

Results and conclusion

The trained detectives obtained 47% more information from their interviewees after training. They gained 63% more information than their untrained counterparts.

The study showed strong support for using the cognitive interview technique in the practical field. There was also no loss of accuracy of information along with increased information obtained.

Advantages of the study include:

  • High ecological validity as the study was conducted on actual police detectives.

  • Ethical as the participants had been given full information about the study beforehand.

  • Lack of experimenter bias as the results were analysed by those with no information about the conditions of the study.

  • High in construct validity as the results of the study supported the use and effectiveness of the cognitive interview technique.

Disadvantages of the study include:

  • Demand characteristics as the participants were paid for their participation; they may have acted in a way which they thought was desirable for the researcher.

  • Ethnocentric as the study was conducted on police detectives in a Floridian county.

  • Lack of generalisability due to small sample size.

Advantages of the cognitive interview technique

There are several advantages of the cognitive interview technique, including:

  • It serves as a more efficient method of memory recall and retrieval than in eyewitness testimony accounts.

  • Its effectiveness is backed up by findings in the Geiselman et al. (1985) and Fisher et al. (1989) studies.

  • Research has shown it works well with children. Holliday (2003) showed children aged 4-5 and 9-10 a video of a birthday party. The next day, they were interviewed about what they saw using a cognitive interview or standard interview. More correct details were obtained using the cognitive interview.

Cognitive Interview Advantages unreliability of eyewitness testimonyStudySmarterThe cognitive interview technique can help reduce the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, Flaticon

Disadvantages of the cognitive interview technique

There are several disadvantages of the cognitive interview technique, including:

  • The Geiselman et al. (1985) study has low ecological validity because the participants were shown a video of a violent crime and asked to recall the events. The study was not conducted in a real-life setting; this may undermine the validity of the cognitive interview technique.

  • Conducting the cognitive interview itself may take longer as opposed to standard interview techniques that police are already trained and experienced in.

  • Training police forces to implement this technique may take some time and be expensive.

  • Some aspects of the interview technique may not yield as many results as the others.

Cognitive Interview - Key takeaways

  • The cognitive interview technique is a method of memory recall designed to improve memory recall and retrieval in eyewitnesses. It was developed as a result of the unreliability of eyewitness testimony.
  • The technique aims to access memory using several memory retrieval cues to enhance memory recall. It has four main principles: mental reinstatement, report everything, recall the incident in different orders and from different perspectives.
  • Geiselman et al. (1985) and Fisher et al. (1989) studies support the efficiency of the cognitive interview technique; findings showed higher and more accurate memory recall in eyewitnesses when questioned through this technique.
  • However, it has several practical issues such as time it takes to conduct the interview. Training police forces to implement this technique may take some time and be expensive. Also, some aspects of the interview technique may not yield as many results as the others.

Frequently Asked Questions about Cognitive Interview

The cognitive interview technique is a method of police questioning for eyewitnesses of crime. It is used in place of standard police interviewing to trigger a higher and more accurate memory recall in eyewitnesses. It is designed to do so by using multiple methods of retrieving memory.

The four techniques are mental reinstatement, report everything, recall the incident in different orders and from different perspectives.  

Geiselman et al. (1985) and Fisher et al. (1989) studies support the efficiency of the cognitive interview technique; findings showed higher and more accurate memory recall in eyewitnesses when questioned through this technique. 

Final Cognitive Interview Quiz

Question

What does the principle of mental reinstatement in the cognitive interview technique aim to achieve?

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Answer

The principle of mental reinstatement in the cognitive interview technique aims to bring the eyewitness back to the general surroundings and context of the crime. The eyewitness may be asked to recall details such as emotions, thoughts and sensations. The aim is to strengthen the eyewitness’ recollection of the crime and to potentially trigger context-dependent memories. 

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Question

Apart from mental reinstatement, what are the other three principles of the cognitive interview technique?

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Answer

The other three principles are: report everything, recall the incident in different orders and recall from a changed perspective.

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Question

What is the recency effect?

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Answer

The recency effect is a theory that the later memories may be easier to recall than the earlier memories. This is reflected in the principle of recall in reverse order in the cognitive interview technique.

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Question

Why was the Gieselman et al. (1985) study claimed to have low ecological validity?

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Answer

The study has low ecological validity because the participants were shown a video of a violent crime and asked to recall the events. The study was not conducted in a real-life setting.

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Question

What is one advantage of the Fisher et al. (1989) study?

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Answer

Any one of the following advantages is correct: shows high support for the efficiency of the cognitive interview technique, high ecological validity due to real-life application, minimal time differences between both cognitive and standard interview techniques, conducted ethically.

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Question

What is one disadvantage of the Fisher et al. (1989) study?

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Answer

Any one of the following disadvantages is correct: demand characteristics, ethnocentrism and lack of generalisability


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Question

What are the practical issues with implementing the cognitive interview technique for the police?

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Answer

Practical issues of implementing the cognitive interview technique include the costs of specialist training. It can be time-consuming not only to train the police but for the policy to carry out this technique on eyewitnesses.

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Question

Which two studies back up the effectiveness of the cognitive interview technique?

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Answer

The studies of Gieselman et al. (1985) and Fisher et al. (1989) show support for the cognitive interview technique.

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Question

In the Gieselman et al. (1985) study, which three methods were used to interview the participants?

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Answer

The following methods were used:

  • the cognitive interview technique
  • the standard interview technique used by Los Angeles police officers
  • the hypnosis interview technique

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Question

The Gieselman et al. (1985) study was a field experiment. True or false?

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Answer

False

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Question

The Fisher et al. (1989) study was a field experiment. True or false?

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Answer

True

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Question

In the Fisher et al. (1989) study, the detectives trained in the cognitive interview technique obtained how much more information than their untrained counterparts?

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Answer

63%

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Question

In the Fisher et al. (1989) study, the detectives trained in the cognitive interview technique obtained how much more information from their interviewees?

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Answer

47%

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Question

How many participants were there in the Gieselman et al. (1985) study?

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Answer

89 participants

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Question

How many participants were there in the Fisher et al. (1989) study? Who were the participants?

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Answer

The participants were 16 police detectives from Florida.

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