The cognitive interview: comparing face-to-face and video-mediated interviews

Published date26 July 2022
Date26 July 2022
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Criminal psychology,Sociology,Sociology of crime & law,Deviant behaviour,Public policy & environmental management,Policing,Criminal justice
AuthorAhmad Shahvaroughi,Hadi Bahrami Ehsan,Javad Hatami,Mohammad Ali Shahvaroughi,Rui M. Paulo
The cognitive interview: comparing
face-to-face and video-mediated interviews
Ahmad Shahvaroughi, Hadi Bahrami Ehsan, Javad Hatami, Mohammad Ali Shahvaroughi
and Rui M. Paulo
Purpose Eyewitness testimony can determine the outcome of criminal investigations. The cognitive
interview (CI) has been widely used to collect informative and accurate accounts. However, face-to-face
interviews have been restricted during the current pandemic, raising the need for using video-conferencing.
The authors tested whether virtual interviews could produce elaborate accounts from eyewitnesses and if
the CI superiority effect against a structured interview (SI) could be fully replicatedonline.
Design/methodology/approach The authors used a 2 2 factorial design with interview condition (CI vs
SI) and environment (face-to-face vs virtual) manipulated between-subjects. A total of 88 participants were
randomly assigned to one of the four conditions. Participants watched a mock robbery and were interviewed
48 h later using either the SI or the CI. Both interviews contained the same structure and interview phases but only
the CI included its key cognitive mnemonics/ instructions. Both sessions were either face-to-face or online.
Findings Participants interviewedwith the CI recalled more information than participantsinterviewed
with the SI, regardlessof the interview environment. Both environmentsproduced a comparable amount
of recall.Report accuracy was high for all groups.
Practical implications This can be crucial to inform police practices and research in this field by
suggestinginvestigative interviews can beconducted virtually in situationssuch as the current pandemic
or when time andresources do not allow for face-to-face interviewing.
Originality/value To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is the first study showing that the CI
superiorityeffect can be replicated onlineand that a fully remote CI can produce elaborateaccounts.
Keywords Cognitive interview, Investigative interviewing, Eyewitness memory,
Face-to-face interviews, Video-mediated interviews, Structured interview
Paper type Research paper
Eyewitness testimony can be a critical piece of evidence that determines the outcome of a
criminal investigation (Fisher, 1995) . However, eyewitness memory is prone to omissions
and errors (Laney and Loftus, 2018). Further, the interviewing strategies used by the police
to collect eyewitness accounts can play a critical role in the investigative process, affecting
the quality and quantity of relevant information eyewitnesses are able to recall (Fisher and
Schreiber, 2007). Despite this, police detectives often receive little training on how to
conduct appropriate eyewitness interviews (Fisher, 1995; Fisher et al., 1987). To address
this issue, Geiselman et al. (1984) developed a set of interviewing techniques, now known
as the cognitive interview (CI), that increase the likelihood of obtaining accurate and
complete accounts from eyewitnesses.
Cognitive interview
The original CI was based on two well-established memory principles concerning
information retrieval: the encoding specificity principle and the multiple trace theory
Ahmad Shahvaroughi,
Hadi Bahrami Ehsan and
Javad Hatami all are based
at the Department of
Psychology, University of
Tehran, Tehran, Iran.
Mohammad Ali
Shahvaroughi is based at
the Department of
Criminology and Criminal
Law, Faculty of Law, Shahid
Beheshti University,
Tehran, Iran. Rui M. Paulo is
based at the School of
Psychology, Liverpool John
Moores University,
Liverpool, UK.
Received 22 October 2021
Revised 20 April 2022
Accepted 6 June 2022
Data availability statement: The
data that support the findings
of this study are available from
the corresponding author upon
reasonable request.
PAGE 74 jJOURNAL OF CRIMINAL PSYCHOLOGY jVOL. 12 NO. 4 2022, pp. 74-89, ©EmeraldPublishing Limited, ISSN 2009-3829 DOI 10.1108/JCP-10-2021-0041
(Geiselman et al., 1986). The encoding specificity principle states that recreating the
original context (where the information was encoded) at the time of retrieval increases the
likelihood of remembering more details (Tulving and Thomson, 1973). Further, according to
the multiple trace theory, there may be several retrieval routes to the memory records, so
using different paths provides the possibility of accessing more information (Bower, 1967;
Tulving, 1974). From these principles,Geiselman et al. (1984) developed four mnemonics to
enhance eyewitness statements: the report everything mnemonic,the context reinstatement
mnemonic, the change order mnemonic and the change perspective mnemonic. When
using the report everything mnemonic, eyewitnesses are encouraged to report everything
that comes to their mind, even smaller or peripheral details that might seem irrelevant to the
investigation. The rationale behind using this mnemonic is that unrelated recall might
activate relevant recall. Further, eyewitnesses might not know what information is important
for the investigation, otherwise withholding relevant details during the interview (Pauloet al.,
2013). The context reinstatement mnemonic, which is based on the encoding specificity
principle, consists of asking eyewitnesses to mentally recreate the personal and
environmental context of the encoded event during the interview. With the change order
mnemonic, eyewitnesses are asked to perform another retrieval attempt, this time in a
different chronological order (often the reverse chronological order). The change
perspective mnemonic consists of instructing eyewitnesses to recall the event once more
but from a different perspective (e.g. the perspective of another eyewitness). The change
order and the change perspective mnemonics are based on the multiple trace theory and
consist of different retrieval paths that can make additional information available to the
eyewitness (Milne and Bull, 2002).
Fisher and Geiselman (1992) then developed an Enhanced version of the CI where they
added several social and communicative strategies that highlight the importance of the
interviewer-eyewitness relationship. The social and communicative components include
building rapport, encouraging active eyewitness participation and control over the
interview, witness-compatible questioning, and mental imagery (Fisher and Geiselman,
2010). Over the years, several experimental studies have replicated the CI superiority over
a standard interview (i.e. interview protocols used by non-trained law enforcement officers;
Geiselman et al.,1985) or a structured interview (SI; i.e. interview protocol that follows an
identical format to the CI butdoes not comprise the four key cognitive mnemonics; Ko
et al.,1995
) in different populations such as children (Larsson et al.,2003), older adults
(Prescott et al.,2011) or individuals with intellectual disability (Gentle et al.,2013).
Moreover, the CI has been shown to improve eyewitness recall for different types of events
(e.g. staged events and video recordings) in both laboratory and field studies (Davis et al.,
2005;Fisher et al., 1989). The CI superiorityeffect also has been replicated in countries with
different cultural backgrounds, e.g. USA, UK, Portugal, Brazil, and Iran (Paulo et al.,2015;
Stein and Memon, 2006;Shahvaroughi et al.,2021). Moreover, the CI and its components
have been widely used by many police forces to collect eyewitness accounts (Dando et al.,
2009). However, the CI typically requires a face-to-face interview where the interviewer and
the interviewee are present in the same interview room. Because of the current pandemic
and other factors (e.g. eyewitnesses living in remote locations, limited space to interview
multiple eyewitnesses; Brown et al.,2021), the traditional face-to-face interview might
sometimes be difficult to perform soon after the event. Thus, it might be important to use
other methods (e.g. remote interviewing) to collect eyewitnesses’ testimonies soon after the
event and reduce the detrimentaleffects of time delays.
Virtual interviews
The current pandemic and social distancing regulations raised restrictions on many of our
daily activities, but also on eyewitnesses’ ability to provide statements in court or in police
stations with face-to-face interviews often being postponed (Dale and Smith, 2021;

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