Is There a Need for a Short Form of the Cognitive Interview?

Article excerpt


Davis, M. R., McMahon, M., & Greenwood, K. M. (2005). The efficacy of mnemonic components of the cognitive interview: Towards a shortened variant for time-critical investigations. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 19, 75-93.

Although police use eyewitness accounts of criminal activity as a primary investigative tool for criminal investigation, the soundness of these accounts have often been the subject of serious and contentious debate. For example, Manning and Loftus (1996) conducted research which demonstrated that not only can memories for events be distorted, but in fact memories can be implanted for events that did not occur. Loftus (2003) goes on to discuss how an interview with a witness after an event can potentially contaminate a witness's account, thus making their potential testimony worthless. Depending on needs, defense attorneys and prosecutors alike have rallied either for or against the use of eyewitness testimony because of this very notion of the potential unreliability of eyewitness accounts. Because eyewitness accounts are an integral and valuable part of any police investigation it is important to develop reliable interview techniques which will help each witness retrieve their memories about a crime as accurately as possible, without contaminating and potentially jeopardizing an investigation, and which will stand up in a court of law.

During the past decade, police investigators have employed a number of special interview techniques including the Enhanced Cognitive Interview (ECI) developed by Edward Geiselman and Ron Fisher. This interview focuses on helping a witness through four general memory triggering techniques: 1) thinking about the physical surroundings and their personal emotional reactions, 2) reporting everything that comes to mind about those events, no matter how insignificant or incomplete they may be, 3) recounting the events in a variety of ways such as (i.e., beginning to end, reverse order), and 4) using different perspectives when recalling events, such as having a victim describe the criminals from their own point of view and from that of a bystander at the scene. Eyewitness researchers have found this interview to be very effective at increasing the amount of accurate information recalled by a witness. Although the effectiveness of this device has been substantiated, the practicality of its use remains questionable--even though the use of this instrument has demonstrated superior results over traditional police interview techniques. Specifically, it has been suggested that many police officers do not have time to administer the entire interview, and as a result many officers have come to shorten this interview on their own (Clifford & George, 1996, as cited in Davis et al., 2005).

Evidence for the above can be garnered from comments by officers centered primarily on the fact that the change order mnemonics (recall of the event in a different order than it occurred) and change perspective mnemonics (recall of the event from a different persons perspective) were often excluded in order to save time (Kebbell, Milne, & Wagstaff, 1999). There are three primary interview techniques, the ECI a full length interview, the Structured Interview (SI), similar to the interview technique that police officers have come to use. And the Modified Cognitive Interview (MCI) the interview technique that is the subject of this research. As discussed earlier the ECI is the interview technique that has proven to be effective, however time constraints in certain situations have limited its proper use. The main difference between the MCI and the ECI is that the reverse order mnemonics and change perspectives have been replaced with free recall attempts. Given what was just discussed, Davis, McMahon, and Greenwood (2005) set out to investigate whether a shortened version of the ECI could be as effective as the original version in aiding the witness to retrieve memories of a crime. …


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