Memory to describe what they think others may have

Memory is a malleable store of information that has been demonstrated
to be unreliable and easily manipulated (Loftus & Palmer, 1974) by language
alone. Post-event information supplied by the police, media, family, and other
eyewitnesses can alter an eyewitness’s memory of details of the crime and the offender
(Loftus & Greene, 1980). Consequently, interview and questioning techniques
have been proposed to reduce the unconscious manipulation of the eyewitness’s
memory by police. The Cognitive Interview technique (Geiselman & Fisher, 1984)
is used to enhance a witness’s information retrieval during police questioning.

Cognitive Interview (CI), in actuality, consists of four memory retrieval prompt
techniques. Witnesses are encouraged to report every detail, no matter how
trivial they may perceive such information to be, so as to try trigger
retrieval of key details (Smith, 1983). The interviewer mentally recreates the
personal (e.g. emotions, senses) and environmental context of the crime (Bower,
Gilligan, & Monteiro, 1981; Smith 1979).

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The interviewer asks the witnesses to report the crime from
an array of different perspectives, and to describe what they think others may
have seen (e.g. other witnesses or the perpetrator themselves). These two
techniques stem from the encoding specificity principle (Tulving & Thomas,
1983) that suggests information recall is increased when the conditions of the
event and retrieval are similar.

The recency effect is an aspect of the serial position
effect (Ebbinghaus) refers to the findings that an item’s position in a list affects
recall accuracy. The recency effect refers to the higher probability of recall of
the most recently stored information. Consequently, witnesses should recount
the incident backwards. The changes in perspective and order of events serve to
reduce the involvement of schemas, expectations, and pre-existing knowledge in
the witness’s memory retrieval (Geiselman et al, 1984). Geiselman et al
conducted an experiment in 1984 in order to evaluate the CI procedure, in which
students were interviewed immediately following a class disruption by actors
through a questionnaire. Those whose questionnaires featured the four cues
within the CI technique were able to recall more information correctly than those
who were instructed to continue trying to remember as much information as
possible. Numerous lab and field studies have shown also CI technique increases
the number of correct and accurate details, and only a minor rise in incorrect
information. After reviewing 27 studies, Bekerian and Dennett (1993) found that
in all cases using CI, more accurate information was obtained than the other
interview techniques.


However, Cognitive Interview has its limitations. The four
components of the overall techniques result in a long process that requires
intensive attention and questioning in response to the witness’s answers, and
is overall a demanding task for the interviewer. Context recreation introduces
the risk of involving imagination (particularly with children) and rendering the
technique counterproductive as once a memory is altered, it is difficult to
reverse this effect.



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