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Int J Clin Exp Hypn. 2010 Jul;58(3):269-87. doi: 10.1080/00207141003760587.

Extreme cognitive interviewing: a blueprint for false memories through imagination inflation.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122, USA.


This article examines a 3-decades-old unsolved homicide, where the victim's 4-year-and-9-month-old daughter was deemed the only eyewitness (State of Nebraska v. Donald J. Sykora, 2008). The authors critique the investigative methods employed over 33 years, with particular emphasis on the final "extreme" cognitive interview of the daughter, which persisted for days and incorporated various imaginative techniques. Adverse circumstances pervade the case: (a) the young age of the presumed witness when the murder occurred; (b) the vulnerability of memory to suggestion and revision over time; (c) the possible earlier use of hypnosis to refresh recall; and (d) implementing a poorly documented, 31-hour cognitive interview that encouraged repetition and fantasy. In this case, the prolonged cognitive interview is perilously hypnotic-like, yielding evidence that must be regarded as a product of imagination inflation--defective for sustaining veridical testimony.

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