Mental Context Reinstatement

Studies of cognitive techniques such as mental context reinstatement (MCR: guiding children to mentally reconstruct the settings in which the events occurred) indicate that this can be a useful technique for helping children retrieve as much information as possible (Bekerian, Den-net, Hill, & Hitchcock, 1990; Hershkowitz, Orbach, Lamb, Sternberg, & Horowitz, 2001; McCauley & Fisher, 1995, 1996). Using MCR, children are instructed to think about different sensory features of the event (e.g., what they could hear, see, smell) and different aspects of the event (e.g., what the place looked like) before beginning to verbally recount what they remember. Consistent with the expectation that mental reinstatement of context will help witnesses to mentally travel back in time and "relive" the experience, MCR increases the similarity between the conditions at recall and those at the time of the experience, thereby making the information associated with the event more accessible. Mental reinstatement of context is one of the main components of the Cognitive Interview (Fisher, Geiselman, Raymond, Jurkevich, & Warhaftig, 1987), which is used widely by police officers interviewing adult witnesses. The Cognitive Interview progresses through five stages, beginning with an introduction to the purpose of the interview and going on to a request for open-ended recall, probed recall, review, and closure. During the probed recall stage of the interview, four techniques are used to encourage complete recall and reporting. First, witnesses are encouraged to report everything they can remember, even small details that they may consider unimportant. Second, they are asked to mentally reinstate the context of the incident and report any details that they can recall, including descriptions of the environment, the people, smells, feelings, and reactions to events. Third, witnesses are asked to recall the event in different temporal sequences (e.g., reverse order, starting from the most salient aspect and moving forward and then backward in time from that aspect), and fourth, they are asked to recall the event from different perspectives (e.g., from the perspective of others who were present). The Cognitive Interview has also been used successfully with children (e.g., Kohnken, Milne, Memon, & Bull, 1999), although some of the component techniques (e.g., changing perspectives, changing the temporal ordering) may make demands that exceed the cognitive competencies of children under 8 years of age (Geiselman, 1999; Hayes & Delamothe, 1997; Saywitz, Geiselman, & Bornstein, 1992).

Interventions designed to ameliorate the difficulties children have providing satisfactory narratives without adult support include the use of a practice interview (e.g., Sternberg et al., 1997; Sternberg, Lamb, Orbach, Esplin, & Mitchell, 2001), explicit training in the essential components of informative narratives before recalling the target events (e.g., Brown & Pipe, 2003b; Saywitz & Snyder, 1996; Saywitz, Snyder, & Lamphear, 1996), and prompting by interviewers for forensically relevant categories of information (Bowen & Howie, 2002; Brown & Pipe, 2003a; Elischberger & Roebers, 2001). In a field study of investigative interviews with children, Sternberg et al. (1997) showed that open-ended questions and prompts for elaborative responses in a practice interview about a neutral event (e.g., a recent holiday) increased the amounts of information reported in response to the first prompt regarding the alleged abuse. These findings suggested that even in authentic forensic interviews, it is possible to entrain response styles that enhance the richness of information provided by children by having them practice providing detailed narrative accounts of experienced events before turning attention to substantive issues. A practice interview is recommended in best practice guidelines for forensic interviewers (e.g., Home Office, 2002) because it (a) provides opportunities to enhance rapport between children and interviewers and (b) prepares children for the task at hand by demonstrating what level of detail is expected in their responses and illustrating the style of questioning interviewers may use to help them achieve it.

Saywitz and her colleagues developed an innovative interviewing technique, Narrative Elaboration Training (NET), to explore the effectiveness of pre-interview training and practice in talking about the past on children's subsequent reports of a target event (Saywitz & Snyder, 1993, 1996). The NET addresses metalinguistic deficits by teaching children what information is necessary to provide a complete and coherent narrative about a past experience, and it addresses retrieval deficits by providing pictorial cue cards to prompt retrieval of forensically relevant categories of information (people, setting, actions, conversation, and affect). Children are first trained to talk about one experienced event using the cards and are then asked about the to-be-remembered event. In the laboratory, the NET helps children, including preschoolers and children with mental retardation, to report events more completely, without compromising accuracy (Brown & Pipe, 2003a, 2003b; Dorado & Saywitz, 2001; Nathanson, Crank, & Saywitz, in press; Saywitz & Snyder, 1996; Saywitz et al., 1996), and it does not elicit reports of false events (Camparo, Wagner, & Saywitz, 2001). However, verbal prompting for categories of information, without training, can be just as effective as NET (Bowen & Howie, 2002; Brown & Pipe, 2003a; Elischberger & Roebers, 2001).

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