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Child Eyewitnesses. Staci R. Devera Eyewitness Seminar University of Northern Iowa. Importance of Child Eyewitnesses. The child may be the only witness The child may be a key witness Consequences of excluded child witness evidence (Thomson, 1989). Problems with Child Witnesses.

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Child Eyewitnesses

Staci R. Devera

Eyewitness Seminar

University of Northern Iowa

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Importance of Child Eyewitnesses

  • The child may be the only witness

  • The child may be a key witness

  • Consequences of excluded child witness evidence

    (Thomson, 1989)

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    Problems with Child Witnesses

    • The desire to please authority figures

    • Lack of complete moral understanding

      (Ornstein & Davies, 1997)

    • Embellish the story more

      Give answers; rather than say “I don’t know”

      (Krahenbuhl & Blades, 2006; Thomson; Goodman & Schaaf. 1997)

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    Problems with Child Witnesses

    • Cognitive/Language limitations

    • Young Children are more susceptible to suggestion

    • Lepore and Sesco (1994) Study

      (Goodman & Schaaf. 1997)

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    Lepore and Sesco (1994)

    • 4-6 year olds spent 5 min with a teaching assistant

    • The children were interviewed without delay

      • neutrally

      • Incriminating Interviewer

        (Goodman & Schaff 1997)

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    Incriminating interview children:

    • falsely agree with the interviewer

    • More errors over time

    • embellished their errors

      (Goodman & Schaff 1997)

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    To be a competent witness

    • Children must understand the obligation to the truth

    • In order to comprehend the significance of a witness telling the truth, the child must be able to:

      1. Distinguishing true from false


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    To be a competent witness

    2. Understanding knowledge and how it is formed

    3. Understanding the effects of misinformation

    4. Understand the moral implication of spreading misinformation


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    To be a competent witness

    5. Understand the concept of lying

    6. Understand the moral ties of social contracts


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    Interview Repetition

    Effects of repeated questions:

    • Less accurate

    • Prone to suggestibility

    • Modify responses

      (Larsson, Granhag, & Spjut, 2003)

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    Child Credibility Debate

    • The credibility of child witnesses depends on age

    • Credibility depends on subject matter and the way the evidence is shown

      (Thomson, 1989)

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    Developmental Trends & Person Recognition

    • 5-11 years of age, identification improves steadily

    • 12 years old to 17 years old


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    Cognitive Interview (CI)

    • Children over 7 years old benefit from CI technique

    • Improve memory retrieval

    • Improves communication

    • Produces more correct responses

      (Memon et al.,1996)

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    CI continued

    • Try not to interrupt the witness

    • Use open ended questions

    • Lets the witness set the pace of the interview

      (Memon et al.,1996)

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    CI continued

    • Helps reduce misleading questions

    • Witnesses are more likely to respond “I don’t know”

      (Memon et al.,1996)

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    Larsson, Granhag & Spjut (2003)

    • Subjects were placed randomly in either the SI group of CI group

    • Shown a 15 min film

    • Asked questions about the film either 7 days or 6 months after

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    Larsson, Granhag & Spjut (2003)Results

    • CI reported more correct information vs. SI condition.

    • Shorter delay reported more correct information vs. longer delay period

    • 6 month interviews reported more confabulations.

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    Larsson, Granhag & Spjut (2003)Results cont’

    CI condition interviewed after 6months

    • recalled approximately the same amount of correct information as children from the SI condition, interviewed only 7 days after.

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    • Child witness evidence should be taken seriously

    • Proper techniques (CI) need to be administered during child interviews in order to get the most accurate information

    • Record child interview, especially the 1st time

    • Training interviewers

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    • Larsson, Granhag & Spjut (2003). Children’s recall and the cognitive Interview do the positive effects hold over time. Applied Cognitive Psychology 17, 203-214.

    • Memon et al.,1996. Reducing suggestibility in child witness interviews. Applied Cognitive Psychology 10, 503-518.

    • Krahenbuhl & Blades, 2006. The effects of question repetition within interviews on young children’s eyewitness recall. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 94(1), 57-67.

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    • Perner, 1997. Children's competency in understanding the role

      of a witness truth lies and moral ties. Applied Cognitive Psychology 11, 21-35.

    • Goodman & Schaaf, 1997. Over a decade of research on children’s eyewitness testimony what have we learned where do we go from here. Applied cognitive psychology, 11

    • Thomson, date unknown. Reliability and Credibility of Children as Witnesses. Monash University.