Sasquatch Field
Research Manual

Never stop because you are afraid - you are never so likely to be wrong.

                                                                                                  --Fridtjof Nansen 

The Cognitive Interview

A Witness Interview Technique for the Field Researcher

by C. Leigh Culver

Copyright 1994-2013 C. Leigh Culver. All rights reserved.

This article originally appeared in UFO ENCOUNTERS, Vol. 2, No. 1. (1994).  It has been rewritten with the perspective of the sasquatch researcher in mind.


If you are a field researcher you may have been asked to investigate a possible sasquatch encounter or sighting. Perhaps you drove out to the site and interviewed several witnesses that saw a sasquatch on their property. Did you get all of the information available from the witnesses report? Did you know that there is an interview technique that enhances memory recall and that significantly increases the amount of accurate information available from a witness? Well, there is such a technique, and it's called the cognitive interview.

The cognitive interview was developed by researchers who wanted a non-hypnotic memory retrieval technique that would enhance the completeness and accuracy of eyewitness reports. The method is easy to learn and upon completion of reading this article you will be able to conduct a cognitive interview.

Since the 1950's hypnosis has been used by law enforcement investigators in this country for the retrieval and enhancement of eyewitness memory. Information is the most important element in a criminal investigation. The ability of investigators to obtain accurate and useful information from witnesses and/or victims of crimes is crucial to making and prosecuting criminal cases. Often an eyewitness will tend to focus on the victim, or on a weapon, and important details will become lost and not remembered. Standard interviewing techniques have not always been found to be effective in obtaining reliable testimony. Because of this the techniques of investigative or forensic hypnosis are often employed.

Hypnosis has been found to be a very useful tool for memory retrieval both in studies and in the courtroom. Forensic hypnosis, however, occasionally has legal problems due to the concept of tampering with the evidence, i.e. the witnesses or victim's mind. Because of this other memory retrieval techniques have been explored, and out of this research the cognitive interview technique was developed. This technique is a valuable tool for law enforcement investigators and it can be an equally valuable tool for the field researcher. Unlike hypnosis, the technique can be easily learned and it doesn't require a great deal of training.

The cognitive interview technique was developed in 1984 by R. Edward Geiselman, Ph.D. and Ronald P. Fisher, Ph.D. along with other researchers from the UCLA Department of Psychology. In 1985, the National Institute of Justice published in the December issue of RESEARCH IN BRIEF the results of the UCLA study.

The results showed that the cognitive interview and hypnosis elicited significantly more correct information than the standard interview. The study, also demonstrated that there was no significant increase in incorrect information. Tables 1 and 2 will help illustrate the results of the UCLA study.







Number Correct




Number Incorrect










Number Correct




Number Incorrect




As you can see from the results, they were very positive. In all, there were five different experiments conducted, and it was found that the cognitive interview and hypnosis had very similar results; however, standard interviewing techniques were found to be less effective.

The cognitive interview shifts the focus to how people remember. The more elements a memory retrieval aid has in common with the memory of the event, the more effective the aid is. Memory has several access routes, so information that is not accessible with one retrieval cue may be accessible with a different one.

The cognitive interview utilizes four general methods and several specific methods of cuing memory. The first two methods attempt to increase the overlap of elements between retrieval cues and stored memory. The last two methods attempt to increase the amount of retrieval access routes.

The basic techniques of the cognitive interview are (1) reconstruct the circumstances, (2) report everything, (3) recall the events in a different order, and (4) change perspectives. The method is systematic and the order of the techniques are important. During the interview start with 1, then 2, then 3, and then 4.



In this method the researcher instructs the witness to reconstruct the circumstances of the event in general. The witness presents a narrative from beginning to end. This will give a general over view of the incident. Never have the witness start with the event itself, but with ordinary events that occurred before the incident in question. What was the witness saying, doing, feeling, seeing just before the incident? An example might be, "I got up this morning and made breakfast. After breakfast I decided to walk my dog, so 'Lad,' my dog and I went out to the field. That's when I saw the sasquatch standing behind the trees . . ."



The researcher explains that some people hold back information because they feel that it was not important. Ask the witness not to edit anything, even things that they feel that are not very important. As the witness presents the narrative encourage reinstatement of everything happening, for example, the weather, time of day, all surrounding properties, lighting, near by people, everything. Focus on each change of context and then focus on the feeling yielding information at each point. Use the present tense, "What do you see? What is your immediate reaction?" "Is there anything about the feeling?"



Explain to the witness that it is natural for one to go through the incident from beginning to end, however, you would like him or her to start at the end and go back to the beginning. You might start with something that impressed the witness most and then move forward or backward.

Make use of the witnesses change in context. Break up streams of activities, then back up. "What is going on before the sasquatch screamed?" "Describe everything about the scene." Then repeat, "Is there anything else that you remember?" "Of what you have told me, what stands out?" Go on to the next scene and repeat the process.

This method is good at finding out lies, too. Lies are created and are in a logical order. Having the witness start at various stages confuses that order. As the truth is a matter of recall, not creation, the order of repeating can actually aid in the memory process.



Have the witness attempt to recall the incident from another perspective, perhaps in the role of another individual who had significance in the event, or from a different location relevant to the event. "If you were standing where your dog was located what would you have seen?" The witness might reply, "I wouldn't have seen the rock in it's hand."

Having the witness mentally change perspectives while recalling an incident enhances the completeness of the report. Often a witness has a variety of perspectives on the incident, but most people will report what they remember from only one perspective.

During the narrative phase of the investigation the researcher might use specific techniques to obtain more detailed information. For example:



"Does the individual remind you of anyone or anything that you are familiar with?" "Try to think of why." "Was there anything unusual about this individual's appearance?" When asking for facial descriptions get trait descriptions and go from there.  "You said that the face looked more human-like." "What about the face made it look more human?" "Is it a pleasant face?" "What makes it pleasant?" "Was is a scary face?" What makes it scary?"




The names technique may not be very relevant to the field researcher; however, here it is. Have the witness use the technique of going through the alphabet. "How many syllables did the name have?" "What letter did the name start with?"



The numbers technique may not be very relevant to the field researcher; however, here it is. "Were numbers involved?" "Was it a high number or a low number?" "Were letters used along with the numbers?" "Were there colors involved?"



"Think about your experience . . . was there any unusual sounds or vocalizations?"  "What was your reaction to what you heard" Have the witness describe the tone of the vocalization. "Was the vocalization excited, threatening, young?"  "Was the voice rough? Pleasant?" "Does the voice remind you of anyone or anything?" "If the voice reminds you of someone or something, why?"

Some practical hints include taking your witness interview notebook and writing on the inside cover methods 1 through 4. Number 1, reconstruct the circumstances, number 2, report everything, and so on. During the interview starting with number 1, title your notes. Then go to 2, then to 3, and then to 4. Don't skip around even if the witness seems repetitious. Remember, that the cognitive interview is systematic and that the order is important. Make certain that questioning stays non-leading and non-directional, and that questioning deals only with what is related by the witness. For multiple witnesses do the same techniques, but keep the witnesses separate. At the end of the interview, review your notes and then write your report.

As a researcher you have probably been using many of these techniques already. However, you will discover that you can greatly increase the amount of accurate information using all of the above methods. My personal research has demonstrated the value of the cognitive interview technique and I expect that with use you will find it a useful tool in your research as well.



Culver, C. Leigh, 1994. "The Cognitive Interview: A Non-hypnosis Memory Retrieval Technique for the UFO Researcher," UFO ENCOUNTERS, Vol. 2, No. 1., Norcross: Aztec Publishing.


Geiselman, R. Edward and Fisher, Ronald P., 1985. "Interviewing Victims and Witnesses of Crime," NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF JUSTICE - RESEARCH IN BRIEF, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice.

Orne, Martin T., Dinges, David F. and Orne, Emily C., 1984. "The Forensic Use of Hypnosis," NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF JUSTICE - RESEARCH IN BRIEF, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice.


Reiser, Martin, 1980. HANDBOOK OF INVESTIGATIVE HYPNOSIS, Los Angeles: LEHI Publishing Company.

"The Cognitive Interview," LAW ENFORCEMENT TRAINING AND INFORMATION NETWORK, 1985. Los Angeles: L.E. Net Video.


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