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
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.
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
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.
TABLE 1. FACTS
RECALLED IN THREE TYPES OF INTERVIEWS
TABLE 2. RECALL OF
THE 20 MOST CRITICAL FACTS
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.
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.
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 . . ."
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?"
RECALL THE EVENTS
IN A DIFFERENT ORDER
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.
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:
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?"
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?"
VOCALIZATIONS AND/OR "SPEECH"
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,
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.
Leigh, 1994. "The Cognitive Interview: A Non-hypnosis Memory Retrieval
Technique for the UFO Researcher," UFO ENCOUNTERS, Vol. 2, No. 1., Norcross:
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
Martin, 1980. HANDBOOK OF INVESTIGATIVE HYPNOSIS, Los Angeles: LEHI
"The Cognitive Interview,"
LAW ENFORCEMENT TRAINING AND INFORMATION NETWORK, 1985. Los Angeles: L.E. Net
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