What Are The Strengths And Limitations Of The Cognitive Interview?

Use the following sources to answer this question. The video and audio files are in the PSYA1 Dropbox folder and in iTunesU.

Catriona Morrison Cognitive Interview (it’s the one we watched in class).

The Cognitive Interview pt 1 and Cognitive Interview 2 – both from the University Of Leeds Psychology Faculty

All In The Mind Extract CI

Loftus Mind Changers CI

In addition, there is the account of Kebbell and Wagstaff (1996) in your skeleton notes.

Work out what you think the strengths and limitations of the cognitive interview are and write them down. You can add a comment to the blog or you can email them to me. This is not a straightforward task. On the face of it, the cognitive interview is a successful technique. You will need to delve beneath the surface of these sources both to be clear about what the strengths are and to identify and explain what the limitations might be.


  1. There are many strengths of the cognitive interview process. For example, police say it assists them by giving them a set of guidance criteria. There are a set of open ended questions that allow witnesses or victims to be broad in their answers. These questions include who, what, where, when, why and how? And the ‘TED’ questions; tell, explain and describe. Whereas previous interview techniques forced interviewees to be specific and sometimes led them to be biased these questions give a lot wider perspective of the situation. This helps because fragmented details that participants may have deemed irrelevant are revealed and they often help the investigation. There is proof that this interview process also uncovers information not previously remembered, as talked about in the ‘All in the Mind’ extract where a rape victim suddenly remembered the face of the man who attacked her during cognitive interview. It is likely she wouldn’t have remembered if this interview technique hadn’t been used, therefore proving that it is a valid method.

  2. The positives I’ve found on the cognitive interview is that it brings more accuracy to Eye Witness Testimony; Fisher et al (1989) found that through the cognitive interview, up to 50% more information is retrieved, which is incredibly important in EWT as the police rely on it heavily when convicting suspected criminals. However, Morrison has found many limitations of the Cognitive Interview; as well as it being very time consuming, it’s much more intensive for the interviewer, as they have to constantly review the questions they’re asking as well as question whether to go back to certain aspects the interviewee has brought to light. In addition to this, the cognitive interview is only going to be beneficial to those witnesses who are fully co-operative; if they’re unwilling to provide information, a time consuming cognitive information isn’t going to be beneficial. Morrison also comments on how, as well as there also being the danger of the interviewer still asking leading questions even in the cognitive interview, asking contextual questions will pose a problem – she says that people can barely remember what they were wearing last Tuesday, let alone three years ago (assuming the interviewee is being placed under cognitive interview three years after the event..), and argues that the contextual events don’t matter, it’s the memory of the vital things in the event which is the key thing.

    I think she makes good points on the cons of the cognitive interview which are convincing, however with something as sensitive as a person going to prison for a crime they didn’t do, Cognitive Interview is worth doing both for the 50% more information it can provide, and the accuracy it gives.

  3. Siobhan McCourt · · Reply

    A limitation of the cognitive interview is that the theory that psychologists have about the cognitive interview isn’t the same as the methods the police use because the police don’t have the time or resources to conduct the interview in full and so tend to focus on context reinstatement and report everything techniques.

  4. One positive of the cognitive interview is that there is evidence to support its success at retrieving more information than other interviewing methods as well as the information being generally more accurate. One such case is of a rape victim – a young woman in a club was attacked by a man that she didn’t personally know. While she had difficulty remembering everything that had happened, the process of the cognitive interview brought some new information to light. The victim was asked to reinstate the context of the event and by doing so, she realised that she’d seen a friend of hers at the club who knew the man who had attacked her. Without the cognitive interview it is likely that the information that she discovered would not have been revealed.

    However, while the cognitive interview is successful in around 50% of the cases it has been used in, there are limitations to it. For example, it is a very time consuming process due to the careful consideration that has to go into the phrasing of the questions so as not to lead the witness towards saying things that aren’t necessarily true. The cognitive interview also puts a lot of strain open the interviewer for this reason. The witness is also put through strain as they have to remember events that may not have been pleasant and could possibly become quite stressed.

    While there are seemingly more negative points in regards to the cognitive interview it must be considered that there is a very high success rate and the chance of success is highly likely to be worth the time and effort it takes to retrieve potentially important information.

  5. A limitation of the cognitive interview is that it is very intensive and can be stressful for the witness. The huge number of questions asked may mean that if a witness cannot remember much information about the event they may begin making up details to avoid embarrassment and please the interviewer. The cognitive interview is also very time consuming and can last for several days. This could lead to the witness becoming tired or confused, causing them to give false information.

  6. The strengths of the cognitive interview are that it gives police a set of guidelines which help them in interviews for questioning witnesses. The questions are open-ended and not misleading to allow witnesses to give as much detail as possible without being influenced in a certain way. The questions that are asked are who, why, where, what, when and how as well as tell, explain and describe for clarity and to avoid confusion. The cognitive interview has been found to be more effective in the amount of correct information generated and therefore in eye witness testimony leads to more correct convictions.
    However, there are also a few limitations to the cognitive interview. It often takes many days of interviewing for the cognitive interview to be thorough and police often don’t have enough time to conduct the interview in this way. Also, the long interviewing process can result in witnesses forgetting a large amount of detail by the time it comes to recalling it in the interview, as well as the interviewee feeling tired and confused. The cognitive interview also relies on witnesses fully engaging and co operating, otherwise the questions will not be answered with the amount of detail needed.
    The cognitive interview is also very intensive for both the interviewer and interviewee. For the interviewer, it takes up a large amount of time to think of the questions needed to be asked and the interviewer has to be very careful what they say and what bits of information they need to highlight that the witness has mentioned. It also can be very stressful for witnesses who are being asked lots of questions, and this interrogation may lead to the witness being less able to remember as much information as they otherwise would under pressure.

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