IPT Book Reviews

Title: Memory-Enhancing Techniques for Investigative Interviewing  Positive Review
Authors: Ronald P. Fisher and R. Edward Geiselman
Publisher: Charles C. Thomas, 1992

Charles C. Thomas
2600 South First Street
Springfield, IL 62794-9265
(217) 789-8980
$51.95 (c); $30.95 (p)

Investigative interviewing has attracted a great deal of interest and this book is a serious attempt to improve the quality and effectiveness of the process.  The authors have spent many years trying to find ways to improve the accuracy of information obtained through interviews.  Their suggestions for procedures to enhance memory and increase the amount of information obtained are called "cognitive interviewing."

This book is a succinct summary of the progress made thus far.  It has 220 pages, 13 short chapters, two appendices, and author and subject indexes.  The book is primarily an outline of how to do a "cognitive" interview.  It is intended primarily for law enforcement officers and relates exclusively to interviewing adult eyewitnesses to a crime.  There is no mention in this book of applying the suggested techniques to children but there is other literature that reports attempts to interview children following these suggestions.

The concept of memory and memory enhancement is rather rudimentary but does correct at least some of the common misconceptions about human memory.  Memory is seen as a dynamic process that is not in the nature of file drawer storage even though that metaphor is used extensively in the book.  There is acknowledgement that memory can be inaccurate but by and large there is no attention to possible dangers in interviewer behavior that could produce unreliable information.  There is admonition to interviewers to avoid rude, blunt, disinterested behaviors that may cause an eyewitness to prematurely conclude an interview.  The practical techniques suggested to enhance memory include recreating the context of the original event, focusing the concentration of the eyewitness on the event to be recalled, making a number of varied retrieval attempts rather than stopping at a single effort, and asking the eyewitness to recall specific information.  The last is understood to be a limiting and potentially troubling technique but is included to increase the amount of information obtained.  Throughout, the emphasis is on generating a free recall narrative as much as possible and avoiding interviewer behavior that would in any way break or interrupt narrative recall.

The book is useful for those who interview persons from whom information is sought.  The procedures of "cognitive interviewing" are considerably less devious and coercive than the advice and methods suggested in many law enforcement interviewing manuals.  Adoption of these methods may, in fact, improve the accuracy of information obtained.

Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies.

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