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COGNITIVE INTERVIEWING: A CRITICAL EVALUATION by Ralph B. Allison, M.D. E-mail ralfalison@charter.net Prepared for presentation at the Fifth Annual Spring Conference of the International Society for the Study of Dissociation in Amsterdam, The Netherlands May 11, 1995 Published in the Newsletter of the American Academy of Psychiatry & the Law March 1996 (c)1995 Ralph B. Allison, M.D. WHAT IS COGNITIVE INTERVIEWING? Cognitive Interviewing (CI) is a set of four mnemonics (techniques for improving the memory) derived out of memory research laboratory studies by others, collected by two professors of psychology, for use by police officers in interrogating witnesses of crimes. R. Edward Geiselman, Ph.D. of UCLA and Ronald Fisher, Ph.D. of Florida International University packaged these four recommendations in 1985 after hypnosis was banned in the courts of California and most other states.1 After hypnosis had been banned by the California Supreme Court for use with any witnesses to crimes, Dr. Geiselman met with Martin Reiser, Ph.D., then in charge of the LAPD Behavioral Science unit. He and Dr. Fisher then published research describing procedures that they believed could be quickly taught to officers. They advocated them as safe from the legal challenge against using hypnotic techniques in questioning witnesses. In the past ten years, they have taught "Cognitive Interviewing" to police officers in the USA, Canada, England, Germany and Israel. Until April, 1995, there had been no USA court challenge to the use of CI, when a Kelly-Frye hearing on the use of CI in a double murder case (People v Tuggle) was held in the Superior Court of San Luis Obispo county, California. MNEMONIC NUMBER ONE: CONTEXT REINSTATEMENT "The witness is then asked to mentally recreate the period before, during, and after the crime. He is encouraged to vividly recall the setting and circumstances of the crime. The typical daily pattern of routine tasks, errands, and problems of the time leading up to the crime are reviewed. He experiences again his thoughts, his actions, his emotions, and his attitudes as they unfold in his mind. By reliving the event and placing it in the context of his normal day, the witness is led to concentrate more intensely on the details of the crime."2 MNEMONIC NUMBER TWO: REPORTING ALL DETAILS "Normally, when a witness is recounting his story, he will skip over what he considers the unimportant details to avoid boring the listener. In this technique, the witness is now instructed not to edit his impressions of the event. He is encouraged to provide every detail, no matter how significant it seems to him or how unsure he is that he has accurately remembered it."3 MNEMONIC NUMBER THREE: CHANGE THE ORDER OF REPORTING EVENTS "At the beginning of the interview, the witness narrated his story in chronological order. Now the investigator, by a series of questions, leads the witness to consider the events in a different sequence. If a reverse order is chosen, the investigator, at pauses in the interview, might ask the witness: 'What did you do before that?' Step-by-step, the investigator will lead the witness backwards through each stage of the event. In the normal course of a narrative, the mind tends to truncate experiences and skip over details anticipating reaching the end. When the order of events is changed, the mind naturally pauses at each stage until instructed to continue. This technique compels the witness to consider each stage of an event as a separate incident and may result in recall of forgotten details."4 MNEMONIC NUMBER FOUR: CHANGE PERSPECTIVE OF VIEWING THE EVENT "In this exercise, the witness is encouraged to view the event from a different perspective than his own. He may adopt the point of view of the victim, the suspect, another witness, or an imaginary video camera on the wall. By experiencing the crime through 'someone else's eyes,' the witness may recall details that had not previously occurred to him."5 In the Kelly-Frye hearing mentioned above, both Drs. Geiselman and Fisher testified that these mnemonics could be taught in 20 minutes to police officers without any prior training in psychology or memory theory. They also accepted any modifications that any officer cared to add to their procedure. The officer in the case in question had also instructed the witnesses, while "reliving the event," to see the event as a movie or videotape, "freeze frame" the images, and "telephoto in" on the object. He also introjected himself into the scene, asking one witness to consider him, the officer, as riding along side her in her car. Neither Dr. Geiselman nor Dr. Fisher objected to these instructions by that officer as violating the recommended procedures they taught as CI. In the same textbook, the following is a description of hypnotic techniques in interviewing, adapted from Reiser, M: Handbook of Investigative Hypnosis. Los Angeles, Lehi Publishing, 1980. "Many law enforcement agencies have established special units to employ hypnosis in interviewing witnesses. The training of police officers in these techniques must be conducted by a qualified psychologist or a physician skilled in medical hypnosis. The technique most often used may be described as 'the television technique.' The subject is to relax and imagine he is sitting in a chair in his home watching a videotape of the crime on his television set. Because reliving the actual crime may be a frightening experience, the subject is asked, rather, to watch it on television, a medium by which he can feel a sense of detachment from the event. While under hypnosis, the subject becomes very receptive to the suggestions of the hypnotist. Through hypnotic suggestion, the subject is led to believe that he can replay the imaginary videotape and stop it on important images. Under the guidance of the hypnotist, the subject can stop the tape at will and recall details of the crime. This method has enabled witnesses to provide a more complete account of the crime scene including descriptions of people, places and vehicles. They have also remembered statements, names, and, on occasion, even license plate numbers."6 CLINICAL EVALUATION OF THE FOUR MNEMONICS 1. CONTEXT REINSTATEMENT: A request for a witness to a crime to go back in time and be there at the time and place of the event in question is asking for AGE REGRESSION. There is no other way to do it, if the instruction are explicit. If, instead, the interrogator said, "Tell me what you remember about the day in question," then the witness could chose his/her own way of reporting the scene. Some would say, "I remember this happened," keeping in the past tense. Some might choose to say, "I can see it again right now," and choose to age regress without instructions to do so. But each witness could pick the way most comfortable for him/her to respond to the request. In CI, the interrogator commonly starts with this procedure and, if the witness is a Grade 4 or 5 hypnotizable person, he/she will have to go into a hypnotic trance to follow the instruction. THERE IS NO WAY ANYONE CAN AGE REGRESS WITHOUT GOING INTO HYPNOSIS, EITHER HETEROHYPNOSIS OR AUTOHYPNOSIS. If the person is Grade 1-3, he/she will have difficulty in obeying these instructions and may act as if he/she is visualizing something while not actually seeing anything. He/she may feel compelled to say anything to please the policeman/interrogator. He/she may talk in the present tense about what he/she is "seeing" with eyes closed, but will break into the past tense in the second or third sentence, if allowed to report what he/she sees "in his/her mind's eye." The latter phrase is commonly used when people remember what happened, but are not reliving it, and it is a safe way to recall the framework of the traumatic event. But, if the witness is successful in age regressing, he/she IS THEN UNDER HYPNOSIS, and any further images may be the product of suggestion, imagination, etc., as well as truthful recall. Since the event under review may have been one with a significant amount of negative Emotional Overlay for the witness (guilt or shame, for example), the witness will not be able to relive the event without re-experiencing the guilt or shame. THEY WILL NOT RELIVE SUCH A PAINFUL EVENT FOR A POLICE OFFICER. If they are pushed by the officer to report something, they will imagine whatever they think will please the officer. Such a report will be from their imagination, supposition or information they have gotten from someone else third-hand. All of the laboratory research upon which CI is advocated for "memory enhancement" involved voluntary subjects being asked to recall emotionally neutral information, such as movies of a crime being committed. They had no emotional investment in the scene and so had no emotional blockade to remembering the entire scene. There is no ethical way for experimenters to stage truly emotionally traumatic events on campus, such as the killing of the observer's best friend, to determine how much the witness could recall a week later. Such an experiment would violate the ethical rules of the university involved. Once a Grade 4-5 hypnotizable person is age regressed, he/she is going to respond to all instructions in a different manner. For example, he/she will take all words literally. If the interrogator asks him/her to visualize a movie or videotape, he/she may see any movie that is currently popular, a fictional story, instead of what really happened. Since humans do not perceive the world in movie frame slices, any "freeze framing" must be manufactured at the time. It cannot be true memory of moving objects and people. Also, any "telephotoing in" must be imagined, since the mind does not do that without lenses in front of the eyes at the time of viewing. Such instructions can well be taken by the then-suggestible witness as license to use imagination to create the present report. THAT WHICH WAS NOT PERCEIVED AT THE TIME OF REMEMBERING CANNOT BE RECALLED. 2. REPORTING ALL DETAILS On the surface, this mnemonic seems harmless enough. There is no suggestion that the person enter into an altered state of consciousness. What is important to appreciate, however, is the power differential that may exist between the interrogator and the witness. In the textbook noted above is the following paragraph: "g) CONTROLLING THE INTERVIEW. The investigator's confidence and authority communicate themselves to the witness. Hesitancy and doubt encourage evasion; weakness fosters resistance. If the witness appears to be one who will be difficult to control, small psychological gestures will bring him under control. He may be instructed to cease smoking or directed to a chair other than the one he has selected. The difficult witness must learn quickly that the investigator intends to dominate the situation."7 In our male dominated society, a female witness being interrogated by a male detective is immediately in a "one-down" position. She will tend to "read" the male detective to learn which of her many comments meet with his approval, and she will cease to mention any that do not appear to gain his approval. Therefore, she will be picking and choosing which of her observations she should offer to this powerful man, to keep him happy. In the case of male witnesses, in the case mentioned, it was clear that a young man involved reacted in a way designed to placate the middle aged male detective, while an older man held his ground and approached the same detective more as an equal. He had his script ready to tell and stuck to the details that he considered important to him, the witness. 3. CHANGING THE ORDER OF REPORTING EVENTS When I asked various friends what they would do if a policeman asked them to tell their story backwards, all of them looked at me with a puzzled expression on their faces. None of them knew what that instruction meant. The immediate and universal reaction was CONFUSION. Confusion is an hypnotic induction technique that can be used with recalcitrant persons. I have seen it used in hypnosis course by professors who wished to show off their skill by demonstrating a novel approach that would work with a student who claimed never to have been hypnotized. One common method they used was to issue commands (from a position of power) which were inherently contradictory. The subject could not obey two instructions at the same time if they conflicted with each other. To avoid the conflict, the subject had to go into trance to escape. I repeatedly saw such "never before hypnotized" students go into trance with this confusion technique, which is difficult for most therapists to do. It is impossible to follow this instruction and come up with true memories since events are only remembered in a forward direction, the way they actually happened. The first question each of my friends asked was, "What do you mean by that? Which way do you want me to do it?" There are two choices, neither one of which is specified by the originators of CI. One choice is to take the last five minutes before the end of the event in question and report on that segment in detail going forward to the moment of the event. Then the witness can take the second five minute segment before that and report on what happened from 10 minutes before the event to five minutes before that, etc. That method would at least provide for an accurate reporting of the sequence of events leading up to the event. The other choice, and the one recommended by the interrogator in this case, was to see the entire event as if it were on a videotape being rewound and seen on a TV screen. In this case, the witness is asked to IMAGINE the scene going in reverse, since no one ever actually sees people running backwards at the time. Therefore, all that can be reported must come from the imagination of the witness. Therefore, to ask someone to envision an historical scene in reverse, without explicit instruction on how to do that, will lead some of them into an hypnotic trance to escape the confusion of not knowing how to please the powerful interrogator. 4. CHANGE PERSPECTIVE OF VIEWING THE EVENT This is the most exotic of the four mnemonics of CI. The original experiment in which this procedure was used to "enhance memory" involved asking laboratory subjects to view a photograph of a large house. At one time, they were asked to "view the house through the eyes of a potential buyer." Another time they were asked to "view the house through the eyes of a burglar." Naturally, when following those instructions, they would remember different details when reporting what they saw. From this laboratory experiment came this fourth mnemonic. But in the real world of criminal investigation, with the instructions as quoted above, this mnemonic is an instruction to IMAGINE data that the witness could not have perceived with any of his/her five senses. If I only look at a man face on, I will not be able to report on the size of the bald spot on the back of his head. Yet, if I took the vantage point of another witness who was standing behind this person, I should be able to describe that bald spot perfectly. The other hazard is that, if the witness takes the instruction seriously, and is a Grade 4-5 hypnotizable person, he/she might decide to take an Out-of-Body trip to accomplish this. This would induce an hypnotic trance to accomplish such a feat. Such a dissociative experience would not be healthy in the context of a police interrogation session. In the case in question, the interrogator asked one witness to see herself at the foot of the man she pulled from a fiery auto crash. Actually, she had stayed by his head, pulling him away by one arm. She was asked to place herself at the man's feet and look towards his waist. To do that would have required her to imagine herself in front of a burning automobile, so close to the fire she would have burned to death. CONCLUSIONS The Cognitive Interview technique is fraught with dangers, both to the witnesses it is used with, and to the judicial system which needs facts, not imagination. Unwittingly perhaps, the inventors included three possible induction techniques among the four mnemonics they recommend for use by psychologically naive policemen. They failed to take into account the power differential between police and witnesses, as well. The inventors of CI also failed to differentiate the ability of witnesses of laboratory experiments to recall what happened from the ability of witnesses of crimes to recall what happened. In the laboratory, there is little chance that any subjects will have a negative Emotional Overlay to the memory in question. In a crime scene, a very strong negative Emotional Overlay may exist in one or more of the witnesses, depending on their relationship to the suspects. The police are not likely to be aware of this very important psychological fact, and they are led to believe that the same scene will be remembered in the same way by all witnesses. CI will not improve the recall of traumatic events by witnesses who feel shame or guilt about such events. All they can be expected to do is to supply imaginary stories to fill in the blanks they have in their memory, stories which they hope will satisfy the detective in charge of the interrogation. References 1. Fisher R, Geiselman R: Memory-Enhancing Techniques for Investigative Interviewing; The Cognitive Interview. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1992 2. O'Hara C, O'Hara GL: Fundamentals of Criminal Investigation (ed 6). Charles C. Thomas, Springfield, IL, 1994, p 122 3. Ibid. p 122 4. Ibid. pp 122-123 5. Ibid. p 123 6. Ibid. p 121 7. Ibid. pp 112-113 



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