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A New Method To ‘Freeze’ Crime Scene Memories


Scientist from the University of Portsmouth have developed a powerful new method to help witnesses freeze images and details of crime scenes in their minds to aid in criminal investigations.

This new method consist of a self-administered interview (SAI), a questionnaire, that combats natural memory decay by using the latest research in cognitive psychology techniques. It help preserve crucial information in the minds of witnesses, particularly small and seemingly insignificant details that provide major leads for detectives that turn out to be the most important in solving cases.

Lorrain Hope, image by Russel Sach
The SAI protocol tool has been developed by Dr Lorraine Hope from the University of Portsmouth and collaborators Dr Fiona Gabbert (University of Abertay) and Professor Ronald Fisher (Florida International University) with funding from the British Academy – “Decades of research in cognitive psychology demonstrate that memory decay, or forgetting, occurs rapidly at first. In a witnessing situation, this ‘forgetting’ will occur naturally and within hours of the incident. As the delay between witnessing and formal interview increases to days, memory decay will level off. However, by that time, many useful and forensically relevant details or clues may be lost forever,” says Dr Hope.

The scientists worked to develop the witness ‘recall and report’ tool to record witness memory at the earliest possible opportunity – at the scene of the incident. Dr Hope said the SAI tool could play a significant role for law enforcement as the benefits were obvious – witnesses have the opportunity to record their memories before any potentially crucial information is forgotten. Tests at simulated crimes scenes were remarkable with witnesses using the tool recalling forensically relevant information 42 percent more accurate than other witnesses who were simply asked to report as much as they can remember.

The SAI incorporates the ‘context reinstatement’ and ‘report everything’ elements of cognitive interview protocol. Early stage development of the SAI focused on creating a simple set of written instructions and questions that could easily be understood by witnesses. The reporting tool, known as a Self-Administered Interview (SAI), draws on the core principles of the cognitive interview which has been shown to facilitate witness recall and is a recommended interviewing technique. Research and experience suggests that using a cognitive approach to interviewing witnesses increases the quality, accuracy and completeness of the information obtained.

It makes sense that, helping someone remember as much as they can about the incident right after it happens, will result in the most detailed report. But this method is not only good because of that, but because it also helps you preserve your memories much longer. I hope detectives will use this tool on day to day bases when questioning witnesses as it seems to be a success!

-article from ScienceDaily rewritten and adapted by administrator-


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