This page gives you an idea of some of the work that we are doing here in the Royal Holloway Eyewitness Group and how you can get involved.

Current Studies

The Self-Administered Interview for witnesses with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

The Cognitive Interview (Fisher & Geiselman, 1992) is a widely recommended and used police interviewing technique. It involves a number of mnemonics that are based on well-established memory principles to enhance recall by witnesses. These include the interviewer instructing the witness to mentally reinstate the environmental and personal context of the crime, for example by asking the witness to focus on the sights, sounds and weather surrounding the event, and the feelings they experienced at the time. Witnesses are also encouraged to report every detail, even those that they think are trivial or can recall only partially, and to try different retrieval routes in to access their memories, for example be recounting the event in a different order or from a different perspective.

Previous research (Maras & Bowler, 2010) has demonstrated that the Cognitive Interview is ineffective for witnesses with ASD: it fails to increase the amount of correct details they report and actually makes them less accurate relative to their typical counterparts. It is therefore important to explore alternative interviewing techniques that do enhance their recall.

The Self-Administered Interview (SAI, Gabbert, Hope & Fisher, 2009) is a recently developed interviewing technique that is based on the Cognitive Interview’s mnemonics, but is administered by the witness by themselves (by reading written instructions), rather than by an interviewer. This was developed for typical individuals on the basis that it saves police time and resources; however it may be particularly suitable for witnesses with ASD because it removes the social component of the interview and allows the witness to control the pace at which they administer the instructions to themselves. We are currently running a study to explore the effectiveness of the SAI for witnesses with ASD.

Co-investigators: Susan Mulcahy (University of Liverpool) and Professor Dermot Bowler (City University London)

Funded by: Economic and Social Research Council (to Dr Katie Maras and Professor Amina Memon)

The suitability of the Self-administered Interview© for senior citizens

Current research in the eyewitness lab examines the suitability of the Self-administered Interview (SAI) tool for senior witnesses. The Self-administered Interview is a pen and paper, self-report version of the Cognitive Interview (which is the recommended investigative interview technique for witnesses and victims in the UK). The SAI consists of multiple sections, each providing the witness with cues and instructions that aim to facilitate recall. One major advantage of the SAI is that it can be administered to witnesses directly after the incident has taken place, thereby minimising forgetting and memory contamination. Research has so far only looked at the SAI performance of young adults.  Given that senior citizens constitute a growing and important witness population it is crucial to examine the suitability of novel investigative interviewing tools. The current research aims to shed light on the effectiveness of the SAI with older adults and how it might be best modified to meet the special needs of senior witnesses.

Previous Studies

Recall of personally experienced events by witnesses with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have specific memory difficulties. Rather than having a bad memory per se, some memory abilities, such as memory for unrelated facts and ‘rote’ memory are largely unimpaired, whilst others, such as episodic recollection and monitoring the source of memories, are often reported to be impaired (see Boucher, Mayes & Bigham 2012, for a review).

The self-enactment effect refers to the well-established finding that typical individuals’ memory is better for actions that are self-performed than actions that are observed being performed by another person. Several researchers have reported a diminished or absent self-enactment effect in ASD, however findings are inconsistent (see Lind, 2010). People with ASD may be more likely to recall an event in the Criminal Justice System and whether they have better memory for self- over other-performed actions has important implications for their eyewitness testimony.

In this study adult participant witnesses with and without ASD took part in a live eyewitness scenario where they assisted the experimenter carry out some first aid on a manikin-victim. Within this scripted scenario there were 19 actions that the experimenter always performed and 19 actions that the participant always performed. One hour later participants were interviewed for their memory of this by a different experimenter, where they were asked for their free recall account of what had happened, which was then followed up with specific questions by the interviewer.

We found that participants with ASD showed a similar self-enactment effect to their non-ASD comparison participants: they recalled more actions that they had performed themselves than actions that the experimenter had performed, and they did so in both their free recall and when asked specific questions about what had happened. However, the ASD participants were more likely to confuse the source of these self-performed actions in their free recall – that is, they sometimes incorrectly attributed actions that they had in fact performed themselves as having been performed by the experimenter. They did not, however, make these source confusions when questioned. The source support hypothesis (Bowler, Gardiner & Berthollier, 2004) posits that the memory difficulties in ASD are more prevailing when unsupported test procedures, such as free recall are used, and that these difficulties are largely eliminated when more support for memory source is provided at test, for example with cued recall. It is possible that free recall in the present study placed greater demands on executive functions (see Hill, 2004 for a review of executive functioning difficulties in ASD), which may have further led to pronoun confusion(e.g., Williams et al., 2011) by our witness participants with ASD. This has implications for forensic interviewing; it may be the case that individuals with ASD need more specific direction in interviews to focus their recall.

Co-investigators: Professor Dermot Bowler and Anna Lambrechts (City University London)

Funded by: Economic and Social Research Council (to Dr Katie Maras and Professor Amina Memon)

Meta-cognitive abilities of older adult eyewitnesses

Although the elderly form a large witness population, they seem to be underrepresented in the Criminal Justice System. One possible reason for this underrepresentation may be that people regard them as less reliable eyewitnesses (Ross, Dunning, Toglia & Ceci, 1990; Wright & Holliday, 2005). However, research regarding the performance of elderly eyewitnesses is sparse. The purpose of the current research project is therefore to improve current strategies used by the police to meet the special needs of older eyewitnesses and to maximise the accuracy of their witness statements.

One way of improving eyewitness statements is to use the Cognitive Interview (CI). Several studies have found that the CI results in a substantial increase of correctly recalled information without increasing the amount of incorrect information, this is true for young as well as older individuals (Dornburg & McDaniel, 2006Mello & Fisher, 1996; Wright & Holliday, 2007). So far, the impact of the CI on metacognitive memory processes has been to some extend neglected in empirical research. Monitoring and control are key metacognitive aspects of remembering. The former serves to evaluate the quality of the contents of memory and the latter to regulate memory output (Koriat, Goldsmith and Halamish, 2008). There is evidence to suggest that ageing affects monitoring effectiveness. Pansky et al (2009) found that older adults volunteered answers at a higher rate than younger adults, even when given the option to respond or not respond to questions. The current research examines in a series of studies whether the CI improves metacognitive memory processes relative to a Structured Interview (SI) when individuals are questioned about a criminal event. Furthermore, the studies will investigate whether the CI has similar impacts on metacognitive memory processes in younger and older individuals or whether there might be differences in these two witness populations.

Co-investigator: Alan Scoboria, University of Windsor


Standardising video identification parade procedures: What should be said to a witness before, during and after a parade

Visual identification now plays an important role in the investigation and detection of crimes in the UK and eyewitness evidence can play a major role in prosecutions.  The aim of the proposed project is (1) to undertake a detailed statistical analysis of the outcome of video identification parades conducted in a sample of Scottish and English police forces in 2008-2009; (2) to develop a draft identification package for police forces based on up-to-date psychological research. To ensure consistency in practice in recording the identification decisions of eyewitnesses, a standard pro-forma will be developed for recording eyewitness decisions together with directions on how best to apply the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE, 1984) Codes of Practice, (2011). A third aim is to facilitate the development of information booklets for witnesses so they can be better informed about what to expect from a video identification parade.

Co-investigators: Professor. Dan Wright, Florida International University. Dr Becky Milne, Portsmouth University.



Social Influence in Televised Election Debates: A Potential Distortion of Democracy

A recent innovation in televised election debates is a continuous response measure (commonly referred to as the ‘‘worm’’) that allows viewers to track the response of a sample of undecided voters in real-time. A potential danger of presenting such data is that it may prevent people from making independent evaluations.

Two samples were found to favour different politicians whilst watching the exact same debate through the manipulation of the ‘worm’. The majority of the sample were unaware that any manipulation had taken place and yet were influenced when they came to decide who had ‘won the debate’.

This research generated a lot of media attention and was reported around the world from BBC Radio 5 to the Canadian Discovery Channel and ABC Radio (Australia). Click on the links to hear about the research and click here for the pdf of the original article.

Co-investigators: Professor Colin Davis , Royal Holloway, and Professor Jeff Bowers, University of Bristol


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