Salvador Dali's the Persistence of Memory



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Short Term Memory
Long Term Memory
Models of Memory
Eye Witness Testimony
Leading Questions and Factors Affecting EWT
Cognitive Interview
Improving Memory

The cognitive interview (CI)

This was based largely on the work of Elizabeth Loftus and other psychologists, following their theoretical work into memory and EWT.  Forensic psychologists combined various ideas and designed a more effective way of questioning witnesses that has been shown to produce more reliable recall of events.  Fisher and Geiselman (1992) designed the cognitive interview.

The technique is based around four main components:

Stages of the interview

Why they might work

Report everything: It encourages witnesses to report all detail that they can remember regardless of how trivial it may appear

Points one and two are designed to reinstate context.  They get the witness to mentally revisit the scene and mentally reconstruct the incident in their mind. 


Evidence suggests that we are more likely to recall information if it is in a similar context to when it was first experienced or learned, so putting ourselves in a similar state of mind should aid recall.


Context reinstatement: It tries to recreate the scene of the incident in the mind of the witness, this includes the sights, sounds and smells but also crucially it attempts to model the emotions and feelings of the person at the time.  This is based on the concept of cue dependent memory!.



Recall in reverse order: It encourages witnesses to recall events in different orders, for example starting half way through a sequence of events and then working backward



Points three and four are based on the idea that once a memory has been stored there is more than one way of getting at it or retrieving it.


If one route fails then try another.  So if working through from start to finish hasn’t worked try to accessing the memory by sneaking up on it from a different angle e.g. backwards.


Recall from a different perspective: It encourages witnesses to view the scene as others present may have seen it, for example as other witnesses, the victim or the perpetrator may have seen the incident.



Evidence for the cognitive interview

Geiselman et al (1985) got participants to watch a video of a violent crime.  A few days later they were interviewed in one of 3 ways: standard police interview, cognitive interview or under hypnosis.  The cognitive interview was found to trigger the most accurate recall. 

Note: hypnosis is not as effective as films would lead us to believe (the so-called Hollywood effect).  Witnesses often do recall more under hypnosis and are more confident in their recall.  Unfortunately much of what they recall is inaccurate.  Additionally, their confidence in what they recall can be very influential in court room situations, particularly with jurors so is doubly dangerous. 

Kohnken et al (1999) carried out a meta-analysis of 53 other studies and found that the CI could elicit an average of 34% more detail than the standard interview and crucially without the loss of accuracy you get with hypnosis. 

Interestingly, when the four components of the interview are used individually, e.g. recall in a different order, there is little gain over the standard interview.  It’s only when two or more components are used that there is significant improvement in recall. Milne and Bull (2002).  The report everything and context reinstatement combinations appear most effective. 

But: it is difficult to compare studies carried out in different countries and even between different police forces within a country since there are now so many variations on the CI.  For example in the UK the Merseyside force use pretty much the original Fisher and Geiselman design whereas Thames Valley Police (Morse and Lewis no doubt) tend to drop the ‘reinstating context.’ 

One criticism of the technique is that it tends to be too time-consuming in practice. 

Young children seem to find the instructions confusing and as a result produce less reliable recall than with standard police interviews.  Geiselman (1999) recommends that the CI is only used on children aged eight and over. 

Enhanced cognitive interview

There is a slightly modified version in which, for example, interviewers use ‘open’ rather than ‘closed’ or ‘leading questions’ and are encouraged to follow the witnesses train of thought rather than get them to recall incidents in chronological order.

Using this enhanced cognitive interview method Miami Police (*Crockett and Tubbs no doubt), reported an increase of 46% in amount of detail recalled by witnesses, where corroborative evidence was available 90% of this additional testimony was shown to be accurate. 

*Note Crockett and Tubbs are not researchers, so please do not use their names in answers!!!!  Anybody seen re-runs of “Miami Vice?”

Last page :-)

Thames Valley’s Morse and Lewis Miami’s Crockett and Tubbs