Number of correct statements using different methods of interview. Based on data in Geiselman et al. (1985).

• The eyewitness tries to recreate the context existing at the time of the crime, including environmental and internal (e.g., mood state) information.

• The eyewitness reports everything he or she can think of about the incident, even if the information is fragmented.

• The eyewitness reports the details of the incident in various orders.

• The eyewitness reports the events from various perspectives, an approach based on the Anderson and Pichert (1978) study (see Chapter 12).

Geiselman et al. (1985) found that the average number of correct statements produced by eyewitnesses was 41.1 using the basic cognitive interview, against only 29.4 using the standard police interview (see Figure 8.6). Hypnosis produced an average of 38.0 correct statements, so it was less effective than the basic cognitive interview.

Fisher et al. (1987) devised an enhanced cognitive interview. It incorporates key aspects of the basic cognitive interview, but adds the following recommendations (Roy, 1991, p. 399):

Investigators should minimise distractions, induce the eyewitness to speak slowly, allow a pause between the response and next question, tailor language to suit the individual eyewitness, follow up with interpretive comment, try to reduce eyewitness anxiety, avoid judgmental and personal comments, and always review the eyewitness's description of events or people under investigation.

Fisher et al. (1987) found that the enhanced cognitive interview was more effective than the basic cognitive interview. Eyewitnesses produced an average of 57.5 correct statements when given the enhanced interview, compared to 39.6 with the basic interview. However, there were 28% more incorrect statements with the enhanced interview.

Fisher et al.'s (1987) findings were obtained under artificial conditions. Fisher, Geiselman, and Amador (1990) used the enhanced cognitive interview in field conditions. Detectives working for the Robbery Division of Metro-Dade Police Department in Miami were trained in the techniques of the enhanced interview. Police interviews with eyewitnesses and the victims of crime were tape-recorded and scored for the number of statements obtained, and the extent to which these statements were confirmed by a second eyewitness. Training produced an increase of 46% in the number of statements. Where confirmation was possible, over 90% of the statements proved accurate.


The cognitive interview is one of the most successful contributions to society made by cognitive psychologists. Geiselman and Fisher (1997) reviewed the evidence from more than 40 laboratory and field studies, and concluded that 25- 35% more correct information was obtained from the cognitive interview than from standard police interviews. They also claimed that this increase in correct information was obtained without any increase in the amount of incorrect information generated.

However, there are some reservations about the general applicability of the cognitive interview. First, a key ingredient in the cognitive interview is the attempt to recreate the context at the time of the incident. However, context typically has more effect on recall than on recognition memory (see Chapter 6). This led Groeger (1997, p. 250) to argue as follows: "While context might reasonably be expected to enhance a witness's recall, deciding which individuals look familiar among hundreds of mug-shot photographs should not benefit from context reinstatement."

Second, Groeger (1997) pointed out that the cognitive interview may be of more value in increasing recall of peripheral details than of central ones. However, the state of high arousal experienced by many eyewitnesses to crime may prevent them from encoding such peripheral details (e.g., Loftus & Burns, 1982), and so these details will not be available for recall.

Third, the cognitive interview is typically less effective at enhancing recall when it is used at longer retention intervals (Geiselman & Fisher, 1997).

Section summary

Research on eyewitness testimony has proved very successful. Theoretically, the ways in which human memory can be distorted, and its fragility, are more clearly understood. Practically, psychologists' findings are increasingly influencing various aspects of the legal process (e.g., interviewing techniques; advice given to jurors). The interventions of psychologists have helped to ensure that criminals are arrested and convicted, whereas innocent people are not.

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