The role of visual imagery in the enhanced cognitive interview: guided questioning techniques and individual differences


  • Research for this paper was conducted whilst the first author was at the School of Psychological Science, La Trobe University.

  • This is a revised version of a paper that was presented at the Seventh International Investigative Psychology Conference, Centre for Investigative Psychology, Liverpool, UK, 12 June 2002.


The cognitive interview utilises mnemonics and other techniques to facilitate obtaining information from victims and witnesses. Research has indicated superior recall to standard police interviews. However, there has been minimal research regarding the role of individual differences. One area that has generated spirited theoretical debate is imagery ability, as guided imagery questioning is an important part of the enhanced cognitive interview. Imagery is also arguably an integral part of several mnemonics employed in the technique. The present study investigated the role of individual differences in imagery ability, as well as the effect of explicit instructions to image, on recall performance. Participants completed the Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire (VVIQ), witnessed a film of a simulated crime, and were interviewed using the cognitive interview or a structured interview. While recall in the cognitive interview was superior, VVIQ scores had little relationship with recall of information. Further, recall elicited by guided imagery differed only minimally from that obtained using standard questioning in the structured interview. These results suggested that the relaxation and rapport building common to questioning in both interview conditions may evoke spontaneous imagery that is comparable to explicit instructions to image, regardless of individuals' inherent imagery ability. Future directions are discussed, including research focused on individual differences and a practical emphasis on context reinstatement and social facilitative techniques. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.