Image-Based Techniques in The Cognitive Interview
Children's reports of events based on their free recall are quite accurate,
but young children provide very limited amounts of information. Therefore,
the task of the interviewer is to encourage children to provide more information
without asking leading questions which risks increasing error. The cognitive
interview involves techniques designed to elicit from a child as complete
a narrative report of the event as possible. Although much in the cognitive
interview is similar to other suggestions about how to conduct an effective
and nonsuggestive interview, the cognitive interview is distinguished by
its memory-jogging strategies.
Several research studies on the cognitive interview indicate that it does
improve the accuracy and increase the amount of information (Fisher &
McCauley, 1995; Powell & Thomson, 1994). Studies with children also
suggest that, in comparison with a standard interview, the cognitive interview
results in more correct facts recalled without an increase in errors (Fisher,
1995; Fisher & McCauley, 1995; Saywitz, Geiselman, & Bornstein,
1992). There are limitations in generalizing from this research since none
of the children were younger than 7 and the events have not involved personally
experienced, traumatic events. In addition, the interviews in the research
studies took place shortly after the event, but in the real world, investigatory
interviews may take place months later.
Nevertheless, several of the image-based suggestions may be useful in interviewing
children about alleged abuse. Modifications of the techniques are necessary
with young children since some of the specific techniques are not appropriate
with children. For example, before a certain age, children do not appear
to understand some of the memory strategies (Bekerian & Dennett, 1995).
One memory retrieval technique involves attempts to recreate the original
context or circumstances. The witness is instructed to mentally recreate
the environmental, cognitive, physiological, and affective states that existed
at the time of the original event (Fisher & McCauley, 1995). We have
used family photographs, favorite toys, and familiar objects to help young
children picture the circumstances, persons, and feelings surrounding the
alleged events. We then encourage free narrative recall by asking them to
tell everything that happened that they can remember.
For example, a father who had not seen his 4-year-old son in over a year
provided a favorite toy that had been left with him. The child remembered
the toy with affection and began talking about playing with his father.
Another child, who initially recalled very little about life with her father,
recalled several relatives and incidents when looking at family photographs.
A child was able to talk about when he was in day care after looking at
several photographs of the day care center. The value in such objects lies
in tapping into the child's free recall. If suggestive and leading questions
are asked about the objects, the risk of error in greatly increased.
Another way of reinstating the context is by imaging. The child can be asked
to close her eyes and try to picture the event and the circumstances surrounding
it. She can be asked to report everything she pictures in her mind about
it, no matter how small. With children, however, it is important to stress
that they should only describe actual events that have happened.
Children who are old enough to understand the instruction can be asked to
describe the incident from a different perspective, that is, as if someone
else were watching, what they would have seen. They can be asked what the
incident would have looked like from the doorway or from the ceiling. Since
the words "imagine" or "pretend" may be perceived as
an instruction to fantasize, these terms should be avoided with young children.
For children who are old enough, backward order recall may allow increased
information to be produced. The child can be asked to picture the events
in backward order beginning with the end, then the middle, and then the
beginning. After each response, the child is asked, "What happened
right before that?" This technique, however, will be confusing to younger
children who have not developed the necessary knowledge about time and sequencing.