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Interviewing intoxicated witnesses: Memory performance in theory and practice

Journal article
Authors Malin Hildebrand Karlén
Published in Scandinavian Journal of Psychology
Volume 59
Issue 2
Pages 113-126
ISSN 0036-5564
Publication year 2018
Published at Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Psychiatry and Neurochemistry
Centre for Ethics, Law, and Mental Health
Pages 113-126
Language en
Keywords Review, intoxication, witnesses, interview, memory, alcohol, free recall, blood ethanol concentrations, central-nervous-system, alcohol-intoxication, eyewitness memory, retrieval processes, social, drinkers, human amygdala, term-memory, stress, drinking, Psychology
Subject categories Psychology


Memory encoding and recall involving complex, effortful cognitive processes are impaired by alcohol primarily due to impairment of a select few, but crucial, cortical areas. This review shows how alcohol affects some, but not all, aspects of eyewitnesses' oral free recall performance. The principal results, so far, are that: a) free recall reports by intoxicated witnesses (at the investigated BAC-levels) may contain less, but as accurate, information as reports by sober witnesses; b) immediate reports given by intoxicated witnesses may yield more information compared to reports by sober witnesses given after a one week delay; c) an immediate interview may enhance both intoxicated and sober witnesses' ability to report information in a later interview; and d) reminiscence seems to occur over repeated interviews and the new information seems to be as accurate as the previously reported information. Based on this, recommendations are given for future research to enhance understanding of the multifaceted impact of alcohol on witnesses' oral free recall of violent crimes.

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