R. Edward Geiselman (1996) On the use and Efficacy of the Cognitive Interview. Psycoloquy: 7(11) Witness Memory (2)

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PSYCOLOQUY (ISSN 1055-0143) is sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA).
Psycoloquy 7(11): On the use and Efficacy of the Cognitive Interview

Commentary on Memon & Stevenage on Witness-Memory

R. Edward Geiselman
Department of Psychology
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1563



The cognitive interview (CI) was developed for use by law-enforcement investigators as an alternative to forensic hypnosis. It is currently in use by most major police agencies in the USA and the UK. The CI recently passed a Kelly-Frye challenge in California. This commentary is in response to the cautions raised by Memon and Stevenage (1996).


Cognitive interview, errors, eyewitness memory, facilitated recall, police procedures, questioning, recovered memories, structured interview.
1. It is not readily apparent why the CI was interwoven with the false memory syndrome and the forensic use of hypnosis. To my knowledge, CI never has been touted as a therapeutic tool. Indeed, I and others (Lindsay & Read, 1994) have cautioned repeatedly against such an application. CI was developed, in part, as an alternative to hypnosis and the differences between CI and hypnosis already have been laid out in a court of law during a 10-day hearing in California (People v Tuggle, May, 1995, San Luis Obispo, CA). The court deemed CI to be a reliable investigative tool. Among the differences between CI and hypnosis are: There is no recognized hypnotic induction with CI, there is an independent literature showing that the components of CI are reliable as memory retrieval aids, CI does not heighten the rememberer's confidence in their memories, CI does not increase the error rate (and in many experiments, does not even increase the absolute number of errors), CI does not increase the misleading question effect (and in two studies, CI was found to reduce the effect -- Geiselman et al., 1986a; Milne et al., 1995), and CI does not increase false identifications from lineups (see Fisher, McCauley & Geiselman, 1994). Furthermore, since the Kelly-Frye hearing, CI also has been found to appear less suggestive to potential jurors who listen to CI versus standard police interviews (Fisher, in preparation).

2. Memon and Stevenage's (1996) focus on the absolute number of errors rather than the error rate is somewhat puzzling. As an investigator, would one rather have an interview with 10 correct facts and one error or 100 correct facts and 10 errors? As the authors note, the answer is partially a function of the investigator's needs, but to take this notion to an extreme, one could certainly minimize the absolute number of errors simply by stopping the interviewee after the first utterance! Furthermore, a simple criterion shift explanation for CI cannot account for the numerous studies showing no increase in errors with CI, most of which were not conducted by Geiselman or Fisher (see Geiselman & Fisher, in press, for a review). A simple motivational effect also has been ruled out (see, for example, the Discussion section from one of the early works - Geiselman et al., 1985).

3. Memon's sometimes non-replications are difficult to interpret, especially given that in one study, the interviews were only 6 minutes in length (Memon et al., 1993) and in other studies her interviewers asked more questions in the CI condition (see the target article). If the interviewers ask more questions, then they obviously are not carrying out the revised CI protocol where the interviewee does most of the talking from open-ended questions (Fisher & Geiselman, 1992). There have been a few early studies where CI interviewers asked more questions, but this has been rare. Memon's choice of control interview procedures also is puzzling given that the control interviewers are taught to use elements of the revised CI! It is not surprising, then, that she would have some difficulty finding a reliable effect of CI. Contrary to Memon's claim, the success of individual elements of CI has been confirmed in experiments (Boon & Noon, 1994; Geiselman et al., 1986b).

4. I, like Memon and Stevenage, see that analysis of errors sometimes generated with CI to be an opportunity to further perfect the CI procedures and to revise them for special situations, groups, and needs (Geiselman & Fisher, in press). Too often, however, forensic psychologists have highlighted problem areas but fail to attempt to fix the problem. Two notable exceptions are the works of Gary Wells on identification procedures (Wells, 1988) and Karen Saywitz on techniques for maximizing the completeness of children's narrative reports and circumventing the suggestibility of children (see Saywitz & Geiselman, in press). In reading the target article, I noted that Memon alludes to her current work on the effects of CI with preschoolers. I, and others, have already cautioned that the current version of CI should not be used with young children under the age of seven (Geiselman & Padilla, 1988; Geiselman, Saywitz & Bornstein, 1993; McCauley & Fisher, 1995; Saywitz & Geiselman, in press; Saywitz, Geiselman & Bornstein, 1992). It would appear from our data that very young children are incapable of cognitively carrying out the current elements of CI. It is my hope, therefore, that the anticipated outcome of the new work will be a modified version of CI for use with preschoolers. That would be very useful, if possible. For a compendium of suggested techniques to maximize completeness and minimize errors with older children, see Saywitz and Geiselman (in press).

5. In sum, after 15 years of work, I see the future as very bright for CI. Aside from its influence on investigative interviewing within law enforcement agencies such as the US Secret Service and the US Postal Inspector's Office, CI has been found to be effective in epidemiological interviews and historical interviews as well (Fisher, McCauley & Geiselman, 1994; Geiselman, in press). Even the UK police have adopted CI! A recent survey by Koehnken, Davies, Yuille, and Read (personal communication, February 25, 1996) showed 23 or 25 training facilities in the UK to have an average of 7 hours of training on CI. Likewise, CI is required, standard training with the California Peace Officers Standards and Training Bureau.


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Saywitz, K.J. & Geiselman, R.E. (in press). Interviewing the child witness: Maximizing completeness and minimizing error. In S. Lynn (Ed.), Truth and Memory. New York: Guilford.

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Wells, G.L. (1988). Eyewitness identification: A systems handbook. Toronto: Carswell.

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