Amina Memon (1996) Memory: What to Measure and When to Report. Psycoloquy: 7(31) Witness Memory (11)

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PSYCOLOQUY (ISSN 1055-0143) is sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA).
Psycoloquy 7(31): Memory: What to Measure and When to Report

Reply to Goldsmith and Koriat on Witness-Memory

Amina Memon
School of Human Development
University of Texas at Dallas
Box 830688 (GR 4.1)
Richardson, TX 75083-0688

Sarah V Stevenage
Department of Psychology
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton SO17 1BJ


Goldsmith and Koriat's commentary (1996) on our target article (Memon & Stevenage, 1996a) highlights the importance of two issues: the choice of memory measures, and the role of monitoring and control in the regulation of memory accuracy. We agree wholeheartedly with much of what Goldsmith and Koriat have presented and point out some of the differences between measurement of memory in the laboratory and the real world.


Cognitive interview, errors, eyewitness memory, facilitated recall, police procedures, questioning, recovered memories, structured interview.
1. Goldsmith and Koriat have addressed two issues in their commentary. The first of these concerns the choice of memory measures and Goldsmith and Koriat's own work calls for an acknowledgement of the distinction between quantity-based (storehouse) versus accuracy-based (correspondence) measures. While this is a useful distinction to make, another way of looking at this may be to think in terms of laboratory versus naturalistic data (Wright, 1996). Laboratory studies tend to investigate memories for simple controlled and at times contrived events, and the amount of detail recalled is important. However, naturalistic studies, in which memory is commonly far more complex and less precise, tend to place importance on memory accuracy. We agree with Goldsmith and Koriat that both types of research are necessary, and support the selection of quantity or accuracy based measures according to the situation. However, is must be acknowledged that the paradigm itself means that we cannot measure accuracy in naturalistic studies in the same way and to the same level as we can in the laboratory. Consider, for example, the literature on flashbulb memories. Brown and Kulik (1977) have used the term flashbulb memories to refer to the vivid memories of trivial events prior to a salient occurrence such as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In the naturalistic studies of flashbulb memories, the literature has tended to assume that memories recorded just after the salient event are true recollections. Consequently, later recollections are compared to this original to determine their accuracy. A similar assumption of memory accuracy is commonly made when assessing the accuracy of eyewitness testimonies from different witnesses. The practice of corroborating one testimony with another makes an assumption that matching details must be correct, however, this may be a dangerous assumption to make, especially in the situation where accuracy of recall takes priority over quantity recalled (see Ross & Buehler, 1994, for a more detailed discussion).

2. Goldsmith and Koriat have expanded on the previous discussion regarding the measurement of errors in cognitive interviews. They present an excellent worked example of the theoretical output of a cognitive and standard interview in which the cognitive interviewers elicit more information, and more errors, making the proportion of errors equivalent across interviews. The questions was then posed -- was the cognitive interview (CI) effective? Goldsmith and Koriat show that the answer to this question depends entirely on context. While inaccuracies are clearly undesirable if they have catastrophic consequences (par. 6, and see Geiselman's commentary, 1996), the CI has the potential to yield so much information with no detriment to the accuracy rate. As such the CI should be considered effective and it is worth examining the procedure further to identify errors and causes of errors (see Memon & Stevenage, 1996b).

3. Goldsmith and Koriat make a distinction between report option (free/forced) and test format (production vs. selection) and suggest that the quantity recalled is facilitated under "selection" conditions and the accuracy of recall is facilitated under free recall conditions. Recent studies conducted in the Memon lab (e.g., Memon, Wark, Bull & Koehnken, in press) provide further evidence by examining the effects of report option within both the cognitive and standard interview situations. A distinction was made between the free recall phase (free report option) and the question phase (forced report option) and separate analyses suggest that while free recall typically yields more accurate performance (but no advantage for the CI), forced recall produces more correct details and errors with the CI. We have not manipulated production mode (it is always open ended) but this would be something that could be looked at in future studies of the CI where the quantity/accuracy issue is of interest.

4. Finally, Goldsmith and Koriat emphasize the importance of self monitoring processes which witnesses use to regulate whether they report a fact or not. Self monitoring, together with the efficiency of memory retrieval and the setting of a response criterion (level of confidence) for reporting, is important in an overall understanding of the metamemory processing involved in recall. Moreover, Goldsmith and Koriat suggest that if the effectiveness of self monitoring can be improved then it may be possible to improve both the quantity and accuracy of recall with the CI. This is certainly a promising avenue for research, however, a way would need to be found to improve self monitoring without interfering with the cognitive mnemonic techniques. On the face of it, this would seem to pose a difficult problem: self monitoring could be improved by altering the criterion reached before a fact is reported, that is, by encouraging the witness to be really confident of the fact. However, this would appear to work against the CI instruction to "report everything". Clearly, improvement of monitoring effectiveness will require careful research before a suitable implementation is found.

5. It is interesting to note that the role of self monitoring processes has also arisen in the false memory debate (see Johnson & Raye, 1981; Johnson, 1988). Ross and Newby (1996) argue that rememberers and observers will invoke a variety of truth criteria to assess the validity of their recollections, however, they can lead to errors of belief. They illustrate this point with reference to memories of alien abduction, suggesting that one reason that otherwise normal people come to believe in memories of alien abduction is that their recollections satisfy reality monitoring criteria (the memories are distinctive, personally experienced, vivid, often associated with hypnosis (a condition under which some people believe they tell the truth), and they are also compatible with the individuals' interests (in UFOs and the like), etc. This leads us to consider that the same criteria that individuals use to monitor accuracy may be used by outsiders to discredit accuracy; that is, the monitoring criteria people use may not inform us about the accuracy of recall. The overlap between self monitoring of recall, and accuracy of recall clearly presents itself as a fruitful area for future research.

6. In conclusion, the commentary by Goldsmith and Koriat raises several important issues and we agree with much of what they say. In addition to the storehouse/correspondence distinction, we suggest that it may be useful to view memory measurement with a laboratory/naturalistic distinction in mind. This focusses the concern over whether to measure quantity or accuracy of recall by emphasising the context and the aims of the study. Finally, the discussion of the role of self monitoring in recall is acknowledged with the hope that the means can be found to improve self monitoring within the strategies making up the CI. Amidst all this discussion, we must, however, remember that memory in the real world is a belief system; it is an attribution (Jacoby, Kelley & Dywan, 1989). The study of monitoring and control processes may provide us with some useful theoretical insights and perhaps one day we will be able to distinguish accurately between a true memory and a false one. That would be of enormous practical benefit to most professionals.


Brown, R. & Kulik, J. (1977) Flashbulb memories. Cognition, 5, 73-99.

Geiselman, R.E. (1996) On the Use and Efficacy of the Cognitive Interview. PSYCOLOQUY 7(6) witness-memory.x.geiselman.

Goldsmith, M. & Koriat, A. (1996) The Assessment and Control of Memory Accuracy. PSYCOLOQUY 7(6) witness-memory.x.goldsmith.

Jacoby, L.L., Kelley, C.M. & Dywan, J. (1989) Memory attributions. In H.L. Roediger III, & F.I. Craik, Varieties of memory and consciousness: Essays in honour of Endel Tulving (pp. 391-422). Hillsdale. NJ. Erlbaum.

Johnson, M.K. (1988) Reality monitoring: An experimental phenomenological approach. Journal of Experimental Psychology - General. 117, 390-394.

Johnson, M.K. & Raye, C.L. (1981) Reality monitoring. Psychological Review, 88, 67-85.

Memon, A. & Stevenage, S.V. (1996a) Interviewing Witnesses: What Works and What Doesn't? PSYCOLOQUY 7(6) witness-memory.1.memon.

Memon, A. & Stevenage, S.V. (1996b) The Cognitive Interview In a Broader Context: Reply to Geiselman on Witness-Memory. PSYCOLOQUY 7(6) witness-memory.x.memon.

Memon, A., Wark, L., Bull, R. & Koehnken, (in press) Isolating the effects of the cognitive interview techniques. British Journal of Psychology.

Ross, M. & Buehler, R. (1994) Creative Remembering. In U. Neisser & R. Fivush (Eds.), The remembering self (pp. 205-235). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Ross, M. & Newby, I.R. (1996) Distinguishing memory from fantasy. Commentary on Newman and Baumeister. Psychological Inquiry, 7 (2), in press.

Wright, D. (1996) Hypothesis testing in experimental and naturalistic memory research. Commentary on Koriat and Goldsmith. Manuscript submitted for publication.

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