Using the Cognitive Interview to Enhance Recall During Contact Tracing Dissertation

(2017). Using the Cognitive Interview to Enhance Recall During Contact Tracing . 10.25148/etd.FIDC001801

thesis or dissertation chair


  • Mosser, Alexandra E


  • To stem the spread of infectious diseases, epidemiologists use contact tracing interviews to identify individuals who may need treatment or, if indicated, quarantine or isolation. Given the high stakes, the most exhaustive list of potentially infected contacts must be reported. However, standard contact tracing procedures may fail to extract the most complete report possible from sick individuals. One of the most reliable methods for maximizing recall is the Cognitive Interview (CI). The CI uses several techniques grounded in psychological theory and was expected to increase the number of contacts listed during contact tracing interviewing compared to a standard contact tracing interview. In Study One, participants imagined they were infected with meningococcal meningitis, and reported every person with whom they had physical contact, shared saliva, or lived with over the previous three days (i.e., at a high risk for developing meningococcal meningitis). Participants were interviewed with either a CI or a standard interview. Results suggested that the CI generated 35% more total contacts listed, however, when examining only the contacts listed who would be at a high risk of meningococcal meningitis there was no significant difference between the CI and the standard interview. Study Two followed the same procedure as that in Study One, but added a manipulation of cognitive resources intended to model impairment experienced by individuals who are interviewed while suffering from acute illness. Participants completed (or did not complete) a working memory impairment task (pressed a spacebar on a keyboard every time 7 seconds passed) while reporting their physical contacts during either a CI or a standard interview. Results clearly demonstrated a superiority of the CI in generating both more total contacts and more contacts at a risk of meningococcal meningitis than the standard interview. However, when the working memory impairment task was completed, the CI generated no more contacts than the standard interview. Findings have serious implications for contact tracing interviewing for infectious diseases such as Ebola and Zika. In light of the findings, we recommend the CI be considered as an alternative to the typical contact tracing interview, particularly if the interviewee is not cognitively impaired.

publication date

  • March 30, 2017


  • Cognitive Interview
  • Contact Tracing
  • Epidemiology
  • interviewing
  • investigative interviewing

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)