Memon and Higham (1999) – Cognitive Interview

Memon, A., & Higham, P. A. (1999). A review of the cognitive interview. Psychology, Crime and Law, 5(1-2), 177-196.


This is a study you may need for your OCR H567, Applied Psychology exam. It is from the criminal psychology unit. It considers the topic: The collection and processing of forensic evidence (cognitive). The application for this study is at least one strategy for police interviews. 

For this criminal psychology unit, it is highly recommended that you read Forensic Psychology: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) to gain a deeper understanding of criminal psychology.

In a real-life test, Fisher et al. (1990) trained detectives from the Miami Police Department to use the cognitive interview. Police interviews with eyewitnesses and victims were videotaped and the total number of statements was scored. A second eyewitness was then asked to confirm whether these were true or false. Compared to the standard procedure used, the cognitive interview produced 46% increase in recall and 90% accuracy. The findings suggested that the cognitive interview is more effective than the standard interview, producing higher recall and reducing errors. (Cited in Putwain and Sammons, 2002).

Research in America showed that after one hour’s training in the use of the CI, sixth-formers were able to find more details than experienced police officers using the standard interview (Graham Davies speaking in Science Now, 1991; cited in Brewer, 2000).

Fisher and Geiselman (1992) used a revised version of the CI and found a 45% improvement on the original standard interview. (Cited in Harrower, 1998).

Milne (1997) showed that context reinstatement yields as much information as the full CI procedure.


To review the cognitive interview based on four areas:

  1. The effectiveness of various components of the CI
  2. The relationship between the CI and other interviewing methods such as the Guided Memory Interview, the Standard Interview and the Structured Interview
  3. Different measures of memory performance
  4. The effect of training quality on interviewer performance.
Method and Design

The method used in this study by Memon and Higham (1999) was a review article. 

This is an article which critiques (reviews) the Cognitive Interview (CI). Discussion is organised around four themes:

  1. The effectiveness of various components of the CI
  2. The relationship between the CI and other interviewing methods such as the Guided Memory Interview, the Standard Interview and the Structured Interview
  3. Different measures of memory performance
  4. The effect of training quality on interviewer performance.

Comments are made on some of the theoretical and methodological issues to be considered in CI research and the practical considerations relating to the use of the CI in the field.

Sample and Sampling Method

As this study was a review article, the sample was the studies and articles used.

Review Article

Section One – Components of the Cognitive Interview

One of the most frequently used components of the CI is for the witness to mentally reconstruct the physical (external) and personal (internal) contexts which existed at the time of the crime. The interviewer can help witnesses recreate context by asking them to form an image or impression of the environmental aspects of the original scene (e.g. the location of objects in a room), to comment on their emotional reactions and feelings (surprise, anger, etc.) at the time, and to describe any sounds, smells and physical conditions (hot, humid, smoky, etc.) that were present. Increasing the overlap between test context and the context of acquisition (i.e. contextual reinstatement) will ensure the operation of effective retrieval cues and maximise memory retrieval. There is a substantial body of empirical research on context reinstatement and memory retrieval (see Malpass, 1996 for a recent review). While some studies show context facilitates retrieval, others using similar or identical methods report no positive effects. Many researchers have agonised about the transient effects of context reinstatement (Memon and Bruce, 1985; Bjork and Richardson- Klavehn, 1989; Eich, 1995). There is some evidence to suggest that context reinstatement is a technique that witnesses spontaneously use to remember events (Memon et al.1997c; Milne, 1997).

A second technique is to ask the witness to report everything. This may well facilitate the recall of additional information, perhaps by shifting criteria for reporting information. For instance, witnesses are encouraged to report in full without screening out anything they consider to be irrelevant or for which they have only partial recall (Fisher and Geiselman, 1992). In addition to facilitating the recall of additional information, this technique may yield information that may be valuable in putting together details from different witnesses to the same crime (see Memon and Bull, 1991).

The third component is to ask for recall from a variety of perspectives. This technique tries to encourage the witnesses to place themselves in the shoes of the victim (if the witness is not a victim) or of another witness and to report what they saw or would have seen. The theoretical assumption is that a change in perspective forces a change in retrieval description thus allowing additional information to be recalled from the new perspective. This is compatible with several models of memory (e.g. Norman and Bobrow, 1978). Again the aim is to use multiple pathways to increase both retrieval and the amount of detail elicited. There are a number of concerns about the use of the change perspective instruction, in particular the possibility that it could lead to fabricated details and confuse the witness (Memon and Koehnken, 1992; Memon, Cronin, Eaves and Bull, 1996a). Police officers have tended not to use the change perspective instruction and some have expressed a concern about the possibility of misleading the witness with this instruction (see Kebbel and Wagstaff, 1996; Memon and Stevenage, 1996c).There is some recent evidence that when compared to the other CI techniques, the perspective instruction can produce as accurate information as the other CI techniques although it does not appear to increase the amount of information recalled any more than the other techniques (Milne, 1997).

The fourth component of the CI is the instruction to make retrieval attempts from different starting points. Witnesses usually feel they have to start at the beginning and are usually asked to do so. However the CI encourages extra focused and extensive retrieval by encouraging witnesses to recall in a variety of orders from the end, or from the middle or from the most memorable event. This technique, like the change perspective instruction, is assumed to change the retrieval description, resulting in the recall of additional details. Geiselman and Callot (1990) found that it was more effective to recall in forward order once, followed by reverse order, than to make two attempts to recall from the beginning. So far there is no evidence that this technique yields any more information than a second retrieval attempt when used in a cognitive interview (Memon, Wark, Bull and Koehnken, 1997a) although Milne (1997) has found the instruction to be of some benefit when applied with specific prompts.

Section Two – Isolating the Effective Components of the CI

One way of pin-pointing how a procedure like the CI works is to experimentally isolate and test the effectiveness of each of the components yet there have been only a couple of attempts to do this (see Milne, 1997 for a recent review). • In a study using 5 and 8 year old children as witnesses, Memon et al. (1996a Experiment 1) interviewed the children about a staged event using one of the three cognitive techniques described in the previous section i.e. Context Reinstatement (CR), Change Perspective (CP) and Change Order (CO). As a control, a fourth group were merely instructed to “try harder.” The control group was included in order to test the hypothesis that the increase in recall with the CI may be a result of the additional retrieval attempts when each new instruction is applied. Reminiscence effects in which new details are elicited with each successive recall attempt are well established in the memory literature (Payne, 1987). The hypothesis was supported and there were no significant differences in recall performance across CP, CR, CO and control groups. The results were replicated in a second study (Memon et al. 1996a Experiment 2) using child witnesses aged 5-9 years. However it was noted that younger children had difficulty in using the cognitive techniques.

Milne (1997) extended the studies conducted by Memon et al. (1996a) by comparing the full CI procedure with each of the cognitive techniques including the “report everything” (RE) instruction. She also included a control group who were merely asked to make a second retrieval attempt. The analyses looked at performance of witnesses at each stage of the interview: free recall, questioning and third retrieval attempt for various types of details: person, action, object and surrounding. Overall she found no differences in number of correct or incorrect details across the four cognitive conditions (CP, CO, CR and RE) and the control condition, thus supporting Memon et al’s findings. She did however find that the full CI condition elicited more recall than the other single technique conditions except the CR condition. As indicated earlier, this leads one to conclude that context reinstatement is the most effective component of the CI.

Section Three – The Enhanced Cognitive Interview

The enhanced version of the CI combines the four cognitive techniques with some strategies for improving interviewer-witness communication and flow of information in the interview. Several techniques are used to facilitate the communication including the ‘transfer of control’ of the interview from the interviewer to the witness. This is put into place during the rapport-building phase in several ways e.g. through the use of open questions which request an elaborated response from the witness (thereby allowing the witness to do most of the talking), by not interrupting witnesses, by timing questions carefully so that they are related to witnesses’ retrieval patterns and not to a protocol that an interviewer may be using. During the course of training student and police interviewers on the CI techniques, Memon noted that the various elements of the CI work interactively. For example, building rapport with the witness: if this is done appropriately, the witness will be more relaxed and open to using the various cognitive techniques – by not interrupting a witness and pausing after questions, the interviewer can facilitate contextual reinstatement. It is possible therefore to suggest that the effectiveness of the CI is due to improved communication, improved access/retrieval of information as well as the interaction of these factors (see McCauley and Fisher, 1995).

Further refinements of the CI (Fisher and Geiselman, 1992) also include additional cognitive techniques for activating and probing a witness’s mental image of the various parts of an event, such as a suspect’s face, clothing, objects, etc. A distinction is drawn between conceptual image codes (an image stored as a concept or dictionary definition) and pictorial codes (the mental representation of an image (Paivio, 1971). The instructions to form an image are used in conjunction with the context reinstatement technique during the questioning phase of the interview (see Memon et al.1997a). When contextual reinstatement is accompanied by instructions to image and the images are probed with questions, further details (correct and incorrect) are elicited (Bekerian and Dennett, 1997; Memon et al. 1997a). The effects of imagery on the retrieval of information depends on a number of factors such as reality monitoring (Johnson, Hashtroudi and Lindsay, 1993), task demands (Foley, Durso, Wilder and Freidman, 1991) and the ease with which an image may come to mind (Sherman, Cialdini, Schwartznian and Reynolds, 1985). However, research by Marcia Johnson et al. (1993), suggests that imaging could potentially be problematic to accurate memory performance (see also Roberts, 1996). For example, Johnson et al. (1979) found that participants who imagined a picture repeatedly were more likely to report falsely that they had actually seen the picture.

Further research has demonstrated that reality monitoring is affected by the characteristics of imagined events that are rehearsed. For example, Suengas and Johnson (1988) found that participants who later thought about apperceptive characteristics of imagined events (e.g. what the event made them feel like or think about), became more likely to confuse these imagined events with experienced events. In other words, rehearsing thoughts and feelings associated with an event that was only imagined made that event seem more like it really happened.

Additionally, imaging should not be accompanied by interviewer suggestion because of the danger of creating false memories. Some of these source confusions may be offset at the decision stage. The detailed probing and care taken by a good interviewer is likely to cause the interviewee to adopt strict source monitoring criteria (i.e. be very careful about assigning source to a given memory), which has been shown to reduce errors (e.g. Lindsay and Johnson, 1989). It has been suggested that imagery instructions should be used with some caution until a better understanding is obtained of how they influence source monitoring and corresponding decision processes (Roberts, 1996).

To summarise: contextual reinstatement, possibly accompanied with the cautious use of imagery that (a) limits the possibility of source monitoring confusions and (b) is non-suggestive, seems to be the only effective cognitive technique employed with the CI. Instructions to change perspective or to recall in reverse order have not proven to be effective by themselves and may even introduce some problems. Research on these questions, however, is sparse and it is possible that the combination of all techniques has a synergistic effect on memory retrieval and/or monitoring. To determine this, it would be necessary to test every combination of techniques in a single experiment to discover which procedure(s), or combination of procedures, improve memory performance. It has been suggested that it would also be helpful to compare the CI technique with a situation in which the interviewee is only asked to give a free recall.

Section Four – Comparison Interviews

In attempts to evaluate the efficacy of the CI, it has been compared with other interview procedures such as the typical police interview (standard interview), the Guided Memory Interview, the Structured Interview, and hypnosis. This article does not focus on hypnosis because of the lack of clear evidence that it can facilitate recall (e.g., Dinges et al., 1992), the controversy surrounding the use of hypnosis (Pinizzotto, 1989) and the ambiguity about exactly what techniques are used in an hypnosis interview. Instead, recent reviews by Fisher (1995) and Das Gupta et al. (1995) which compare the cognitive interview with hypnosis are considered.

The standard interview: – In early studies, results from using the CI were compared to results using the standard police interview. This was a sensible research strategy given that few other interview techniques were widely used when the CI was first introduced. – However, the term “standard interview” is somewhat of a misnomer given that such interviews are highly variable and are far from standardised. There are also a number of undesirable characteristics associated with the standard interview, such as rapid-fire questions and frequent interruptions (Fisher, Geiselman and Raymond, 1987; George, 1991). From the practical point of view, the CI offers a clear advantage over the standard interview as these undesirable elements are absent (Fisher and Geiselman, 1992; Memon and Bull, 1991). However, for the purposes of memory research, the disadvantage of the standard interview is that it differs from the CI in many ways and so does not provide a tight experimental control against which to measure the effectiveness of the cognitive techniques employed specifically with the CI e.g. there is no control over the effects of training and interviewer motivation. Any observed advantage of the CI over the standard interview may be attributable not to the cognitive techniques, but to the fact that CI interviewers are trained in the use of special techniques and additional time and attention is devoted to their interview style. Such added attention might mean that CI interviewers are more likely to be motivated to perform well in contrast to the standard interviewers who are not given any special training or attention. The situation is worsened by the fact that, as mentioned above, there are large individual differences in the interviewing styles of standard interviewers. – The standard interview was a useful comparison group in the early days of research on the CI. The issue at first was simply to evaluate whether the CI, as a complete procedure, was any better than the interview procedure that was used by the majority of police officers at that time. However, research today is rightfully more specific i.e. it is focused more on determining the efficacy of particular techniques and procedures within the CI rather than the efficacy of the interview as a whole. Consequently, Memon and Higham recommend against using the standard interview as a comparison group to evaluate the efficacy of the CI, especially when the research is focused on determining the specific effects that CI techniques might have on memory.

Guided memory interview (GMI): – The GMI interview draws upon principles of contextual reinstatement as does the CI and by encouraging the witness to mentally reinstate contexts guides their memory

The role of the GMI in eyewitness identification was first studied by Malpass and Devine (1981). They staged an act of vandalism during a classroom demonstration and requested students who had witnessed the event to view a photo-line up five months later. Some witnesses were administered a GMI, during which they were guided through each step of the incident and probed for a full description of the environment in which the incident took place and their emotional reactions to it e.g. witnesses were asked to describe where they were seated, who they were with and to visualise how the room looked. Witnesses were encouraged to visualise each sequence of the event, to describe what had taken place and how they felt at the time. They were also asked to form an image of the perpetrator, describe his appearance and their impressions of him. Malpass and Devine found that recognition accuracy was enhanced with the GMI, relative to a simple instruction condition (i.e. a prompt with line up instructions), without biasing the witnesses’ recollections.

Techniques employed in the GMI resemble the context reinstatement and imagery components of the most recent version of CI. However, in contrast to Malpass and Devine’s (1981) results using the GMI, previous research has indicated that the CI does not enhance eyewitness identification from line ups (e.g., Fisher et al.,1990). One possible reason for the discrepancy between CI and GMI results could be that the components common to both interviews are only effective in increasing recognition accuracy when certain conditions are met. It is worth noting that studies investigating the effect of the GMI on eyewitness identification employing somewhat different procedures have failed to replicate the memory enhancement reported by Malpass and Devine e.g. Memon (1985) who did not probe her witnesses in as much detail as Malpass and Devine (1981) and failed to find memory enhancement. Because both the CI and GMI require that the interviewer provide a great deal of guidance for the witness, interviewer variables are likely to be very important.

With regard to the contextual reinstatement component employed with both the GMI and the CI, a critical variable determining its effectiveness might be the delay between the incident and test. Malpass (1996) has pointed out that if the to-be remembered event is readily available and the witness has a clear, accurate memory for the “focal” element of the event (or the part of the event about which the interviewer is trying to elicit information), then additional contextual cues are not likely to be useful (Smith, 1988). However, if memory for the focal element is weak, as when the representation has faded with time, contextual reinstatement should be beneficial.

To summarise: because the CI is made up of a number of different techniques (e.g., changed perspective, change order, report everything) as well as context reinstatement, the GMI may be a reasonable comparison group for determining whether the CI effects can be attributed to context reinstatement alone or whether a combination of cognitive techniques are responsible for the effects. However, there is more to the CI than the cognitive techniques; the enhanced CI relies on the ability of the interviewer to communicate effectively in an interview. Perhaps a more appropriate control would be a procedure that achieves good rapport with the witness without the use of any special mnemonic techniques.

The structured interview (SI):

Koehnken and colleagues (e.g., Koehnken et al.1994) first used the SI as a comparison interview in CI research.

SI interviewers are persuaded to build rapport with the witness, to allow the witnesses the opportunity to give narrative descriptions and to provide ample time for interviewees to respond. Additionally, the SI is non-interruptive, expansive, confidence building and fosters the use of good questioning techniques e.g., active listening, use of open questions, appropriate non-verbal behaviour.

Many of these positive aspects of the SI are also present in the enhanced CI. However, the SI and CI are different in that the cognitive techniques e.g. contextual reinstatement, are only employed with the CI. Therefore, the amount of information elicited in a CI exceeds that which is elicited by interviewers trained in the SI, even though both procedures produce comparable accuracy rates.

Memon et al. (1997b) have noted that, with appropriate training, both CI and SI interviewers can be effective.

Because the sole difference between the SI and CI is the use of the cognitive techniques in the CI, the SI provides a reasonably good control group for determining the role of these techniques within the CI.

Measures of memory

Although one of the strong points of the CI is its employment of well-established laboratory principles, researchers of CI effectiveness have not typically been as concerned with measures of performance as have their laboratory counterparts. In practically all studies, performance is measured in terms of the percentage of interview statements that are correct or the absolute number of correct and incorrect statements. One potential problem of limiting research to these measures is that it ignores the amount and the nature of unreported information, which is as important to determining the efficacy of any interview procedure as is the reported information.

Without this unreported information, it is impossible to determine hit and false alarm rates which are necessary to calculate measures of sensitivity and bias. However, there is a clear need for the incorporation of analogous ideas into measures of interview performance. One reason for this need is that the CI may affect an interviewee’s report criterion e.g. the instruction to “report everything” may cause people to lower their response criterion and report more information than they might normally. Indeed, many studies indicate that overall output (amount of information reported) is greater for the CI than the SI. Without appropriate methods and a framework to incorporate such criterion shifts into measures of interview performance, it is difficult to determine what the effects might be.

In a recent series of articles Koriat and Goldsmith (1994), have presented a formal model that outlines the effect of retrieval, memory monitoring and output control on memory performance. According to the model, a person retrieves candidate answers from long-term memory in response to an input question (retrieval). The probability that the best candidate answer is correct is then assessed (monitoring), and this probability is then compared to a response criterion probability set by situational demands and payoff (control). If the assessed probability that the best candidate answer is correct is greater than the response criterion, then the candidate answer is reported. If not, it is withheld (performance).This model makes the important distinction between retrieval and meta memory issues such as memory monitoring. It also makes some clear predictions about the effect of shifts in response criterion on interview accuracy measures. In general, it predicts that as the response criterion becomes more conservative, accuracy should improve.

If accuracy is compared between the SI and the CI, output is generally greater for the CI, but there is no associated loss in accuracy. This finding runs counter to Koriat and Goldsmith’s model which predicts poorer accuracy with increased output (all other factors held constant). One possible reason for this is that the cognitive techniques employed with the CI improve retrieval, monitoring or both, relative to the SI, and so the loss of accuracy due to the criterion shift is compensated for. The important point is that Koriat and Goldsmith’s model allows researchers to make some formal predictions about CI performance, many of which are not obvious or intuitive, and these predictions can be tested to determine what effects, if any, the CI has on retrieval and memory monitoring. This would clearly be an advance over the reliance on solely percentage correct and/or absolute number correct and incorrect statements as indices of interview efficacy.

Quality of training

A criticism of early studies of the CI was that the amount and quality of training that interviewers were given was not specified. Based on the description of the interview protocol, it seems that interviewers were merely provided with a set of instructions to follow and were not ‘trained’ in any depth. – In some studies, interviewers were required to read the CI instructions to the interviewees verbatim, thus possibly obviating the need to have properly trained interviewers. The original CI procedure was perhaps easier to communicate to witnesses than the enhanced version. It appears to be the case that the enhanced version places far greater demands on the interviewer. Post-interview discussion with the student interviewers in the various Memon studies yielded the following observation: the cognitive interviewers reported that they found the procedure more demanding and exhausting as compared to the structured interviewers. – It is likely that differences in the attitudes, motivation and prior experience of the interviewers play a big role in determining the kind of results obtained with the CI. Memon et al. (1994) found that the police showed considerable resistance to the training, failed to follow instructions and used poor questioning techniques in both the CI and SI. This resistance, however, may depend partly on who is doing the training. Veteran police officers may be less likely to contest the training techniques of a superior officer on the force than an external researcher from a university setting. – It would be useful to establish baseline measures of interviewer performance prior to training. This could be used to make ‘before’ and ‘after’ comparisons. Pre-training measures may also establish how motivated and interested candidates are about embarking on a training programme. The work of Memon et al. (1994), also suggests that unless they are provided with feedback on their interview methods, police officers will continue to slip into bad practice. Thus one solution to this problem is more extensive practice in the use of CI techniques. According to Koehnken (1995), when interviewers have achieved a level of expertise that allows them to conduct a CI without having to constantly check guidelines regarding interview procedure, the cognitive load on the interviewer is likely to be reduced, enabling the techniques to be used more efficiently. Geiselman and Fisher (1997), in a review of 10 years of research on cognitive interviewing, also stress the importance of providing feedback on interviewer’s performance.

Memon and Higham therefore make the following suggestions for training:

  • Interviewers should be given adequate training in CI techniques – a two day training programme is recommended.
  • A possible strategy would be to direct training to a select group of officers. Fisher (1995) suggested that police forces ought to guide candidates who have the potential to make good interviewers toward the role of investigative detective and poor interviewers toward other aspects of police work. Although this would allow human resources to be employed more efficiently, it assumes poor interviewers won’t benefit from training and that training individuals who are already good interviewers will make them even better.


Research into the effectiveness of the CI remains inconclusive.

There is a need for further research investigating the particular effects the CI has on memory.

Further research is needed on how the various elements of the CI work.

It is not yet clear how the CI relates to other interviewing procedures and what would make a suitable control group.

Interviewers differ in their ability and motivation to conduct a good interview.

If research is limited to comparisons between interviews with established protocols, such as the CI and SI, the problem of interviewer variability is not alleviated.


Memon, A., & Higham, P. A. (1999). A review of the cognitive interview. Psychology, Crime and Law, 5(1-2), 177-196.

Further Reading

Forensic Psychology: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)

Psych Yogi’s Top Ten Psychology Revision Tips for the A* Student

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Memon and Higham (1999) - Cognitive Interview
Revision materials for Memon and Higham into the Cognitive Interview, which you will need for your OCR H567 Criminal Psychology A Level exams.

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