Improving The Accuracy Of Eyewitness Testimony, Including The Use Of The Cognitive Interview

March 7, 2021 - Paper 1 Introductory Topics in Psychology | Memory

Improving the Accuracy of EWT The Cognitive Interview


Description, AO1 The Cognitive Interview:

The cognitive interview was developed by Fisher & Geiselman (1992) as a series of memory retrieval and communication techniques to improve recall in police interviews.


The cognitive interview is based primarily on 2 factors;

1. Tulving’s idea that there are several retrieval paths to each memory and information not available through one pathway may be accessible through another.

2. The Encoding Specificity Principle (think back to context & state-dependent forgetting), the idea that memory traces rely upon as many retrieval cues as possible and that memory can be improved if an individual recalls the information in a similar context/state to original encoding.

Cognitive interviewStandard interview
Open-ended questionsClosed questions
Witness encouraged to speak slowlyQuestions asked in quick succession
No unnecessary distractions/interruptionsWitness can be interrupted
Witnesses reminded not to guessWitness might be asked to guess/speculate
Attempt to reduce anxiety of the witnessNo attempt to reduce witness anxiety

How the Cognitive Interview is Conducted:

Fisher and Geisleman developed the cognitive interview and the first principle of this is to encourage the eye witness to recall more detailed information and to improve the accuracy of the information recalled. There are 4 techniques used in the interviews and these are read to the witness at the start.

CI technique describedInstructions to Witness (as would be said directly to witness)How Recall is Improved
Context Reinstatement (CR)Imagine you’re back at the scene of the incident(event), recall everything you can.  This provides retrieval cues to help the eyewitness access their memory of the event.Encoding specificity principle mentally recreating the scene (recreating the context).
Report everything (RE)Recall the maximum amount of information, even if it appears to have little relevance, appears trivial or is accorded a lower level of confidence.This provides retrieval cues to help the eyewitness access their memory of the event. Also, the small aspects of detail might lead on to something additional being recalled. 
Recall from a Changed perspective (CP)Recall the event, but this time, recall the event from the perspective of another witness/the victim etcThis is done because psychological research has shown memories can be retrieved through a number of different routes and therefore it is more productive to vary these access routes during questioning.
Recall in reverse order (RO)Try to recount the scene in a different chronological order for example, from the end to the beginning.This provides retrieval cues, which helps the witness access their memory of the event. It also makes the witness think about the event in a different way, which might unlock more memories.

Evaluation, AO3 of the use of the Cognitive Interview:



(1) Point: One strength comes from Milne & Bull (2002) who support the idea that the cognitive interview enhances recall. Evidence: For example, they found that all 4 techniques used singularly produced more recall from a witnesses than the standard police interview suggesting that recall can be improved by using the 4 simple Cognitive Interview techniques as part of the interviewing process. Evaluation: This is a strength because it supports the use of the cognitive interview and has positive real life applications to interviewing witnesses

(2) Point: Support for the role of cognitive comes from the Encoding Specificity Principle and research carried out by Baddeley. Evidence: Baddeley found that divers were much better at recalling words when their recall took place in the same context in which they had learned the information in comparison to recall words in a different context to which learning took place. Evaluation: This is positive because it is further support for the role of context in improving recall and therefore support for the cognitive interview in improving the accuracy of EWT.


(1) Point: The cognitive interview doesn’t improve recall in all cases. Evidence: For example, Geiselman (1999) reviewed many cases and found that in children under 6, recall of events was slightly less accurate possibly due to the complexity of the instructions provided as part of the Cognitive Interview. Evaluation: This is a weakness because it shows that the cognitive interview is not effective at improving testimony in all situations.


(2) Point: The cognitive interview raises ethical issues. Evidence:For example, witnesses are asked to recall the traumatic event over and over again in a variety of different ways. Evaluation:This is a weakness because such a process could cause witness (or participants carrying out research into the cognitive interview) a great deal of stress and distress which goes against the guidelines put forward by the BPS.

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