Techniques for Improving Eyewitness Testimony: the Cognitive Interview

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Techniques for Improving Eyewitness Testimony: The Cognitive Interview An eyewitness is somebody who sees an act, occurrence or happening and can give a firsthand account of the event. The police often rely on such people to provide accurate recollections of these situations in order to aid in their investigations. Research has shown however, that eyewitness testimony can be inaccurate and unreliable. It is absolutely crucial that eyewitness testimony be as accurate as possible, as there have been as many as 225 innocent people falsely convicted of crimes due to mistaken eyewitness identification (Innocence Project, 2013). Techniques such as hypnosis, line-up construction or the cognitive interview have been employed in an attempt to improve the accuracy of eyewitnesses, with varying levels of success for each. The focus of this paper is on the technique known as a cognitive interview; discussing the underlying cognitive processes involved and explaining the errors or deficiencies it corrects. In 1975, the RAND (Research and Development) Corporation completed a study on criminal-investigations, concluding that eyewitness testimony was a significant determinant in whether or not a case was solved (RAND Corporation, 1975). A study by Elizabeth Loftus in the same year determined that if interviewers were to ask closed-ended and/or leading questions, they could to an extent influence the responses provided by the interviewee, resulting in many eyewitness reports being unreliable due to incompletion, partial construction and vulnerability to suggestions during the interviewing process (Loftus & Zanni, 1975). It wasn’t until 1984 that the cognitive interview was developed by researchers Geiselman, Fisher and their associates as a means of amending the ineffective standard interviewing techniques used up until that time. Their aim was to propose methods that would help improve the accuracy of recall in eyewitnesses, and their results distinguished that participants who were trained in memory retrieval techniques were able to correctly recall more information on a questionnaire about an event that had previously occurred (Geiselman et al., 1984). Their techniques were based on four memory retrieval rules which stemmed from the encoding specificity principle, and the premise that memory traces are usually complex with differing sorts of information. In 1985 Geiselman, Fisher and their associates MacKinnon and Holland further demonstrated that the cognitive interview carried ecological validity by having participants watch footage of imitated violent crimes. The conclusion to this experiment saw that the cognitive interview produced on average a greater number of correctly recalled facts as opposed to Hypnosis and the standard interviewing technique (Geiselman, Fisher, MacKinnon & Holland, 1985). In 1987, the initial design of the cognitive interview was revised by Fisher, Geiselman and their associates, incorporating the concept of structuring an interview to be more congruent with how the brain retrieves memories. This revised version of the cognitive interview exhibited a 45 percent increase in correct information retrieved (Fisher, Geiselman, Raymond, Jurkevich & Warhaftig, 1987). The basis for creating the cognitive interview arose from several well investigated facts regarding human memory. Studies have demonstrated that memory deteriorates over time, indicating that the greater the interval between initial encoding and subsequent retrieval, the more susceptible recall is to inaccuracies (Memon, Cronin, Eaves & Bull, 1975). This could pose a potential concern during a cognitive interview if a significant amount of time has lapsed between witnessing the event and conducting the interview. Additionally, human memory has demonstrated that it has a reconstructive nature, as well as a limited capacity for storing information (Memon, Cronin, Eaves & Bull, 1975). The reconstructive nature of human memory can be demonstrated through...
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