Cognitive Interview: Fisher and
You need to be able to:
Describe the cognitive interview
Outline and evaluate 3 research studies on the
effectiveness of the cognitive interview
Discuss the validity of research on the cognitive interview
A way of interviewing eyewitnesses to improve the
accuracy and detail of their memory of a crime.
It is based on what psychologists have found out about
Memories for events like crimes are made up of lots of
different types of information stored in different parts
of the human memory system.
The cognitive interview is:
More accurate and detailed memories can be recalled
if interviews help the witness to access and retrieve
information from different parts of their memory
The cognitive interview is intended to do this by
helping the witness to reconstruct the original
context of the crime and retrieve lots of different
information about the crime stored in memory.
You need to be able to describe the cognitive
You need to be able to describe the 4 main components
of the cognitive interview. This is your main AO1
1. Report everything - include every single detail of the
event, even if it is minor or not directly related to the
crime. This is intended to improve the detail and accuracy
of the memory of the crime.
2. Mental reinstatement of the original context - mentally
recreate the situation at the time of the crime. This is also
intended to improve the detail and accuracy of the
3. Change the order - reverse the order of what
happened. This helps to access more information
about the crime stored in memory.
4. Changing the perspective - recall the crime from
many different points of view, e.g other witnesses,
the person carrying out the crime, the victim. This
allows the eyewitness to retrieve more
information stored in memory.
Research evidence: 3 studies are enough.
This can be used to help you answer AO1
questions on research and as AO2 material in
extended writing questions.
Kohnken et al conducted a meta analysis of
53 studies and found a 34% increase in
correct recall using the cognitive interview
compared with standard interview
This is support for the cognitive interview
as a better way to interview eyewitnesses
than standard interview techniques.
Milne and Bull conducted a lab experiment using college
students and children and found that using component 1
and 2 of the cognitive interview (report everything and
mental reinstatement of the original context) produced
better recall of the crime than just using one
This supports the claim made by Fisher and Gieselman
that using many different ways of accessing information
improves the accuracy of eyewitnesses memory for
events like a crime.
Stein and Memon tested female cleaning staff in
Brazil and found that the cognitive interview
increased the amount of details remembered
about a crime. The details remembered were
often useful to the police including important
details like a description of the criminal.
This is further support for the effectiveness of
the cognitive interview with a more
representative sample of participants and
suggests the cognitive interview is effective with
ordinary people as well as students.
Many of the studies on the effectiveness of the
cognitive interview are lab studies that used videos of
The participants were often students. The findings
may be valid for the experimental situation but may
not generalise to real life interview situations.
Real life interview situations are difficult to investigate.
Many police forces do not use the 4 stages of the
cognitive interview. Some police forces only use one
or two components. It is therefore hard to establish
how effective the cognitive interview is in improving
the accuracy of eyewitness recall.
Many police forces that have been trained to
use the cognitive interview don't use it. It is
expensive and takes time to carry out.
The cognitive interview is based on psychological
research into memory and has proved effective in
improving the accuracy of eyewitness memory
but it is expensive and time consuming to carry
out and many police forces do not use it.