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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

Child Eyewitnesses

Staci R. Devera

Eyewitness Seminar

University of Northern Iowa

importance of child eyewitnesses
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
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)

problems with child witnesses4
Problems with Child Witnesses
  • Cognitive/Language limitations
  • Young Children are more susceptible to suggestion
  • Lepore and Sesco (1994) Study

(Goodman & Schaaf. 1997)

lepore and sesco 1994
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)


Incriminating interview children:

  • falsely agree with the interviewer
  • More errors over time
  • embellished their errors

(Goodman & Schaff 1997)

to be a competent witness
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


to be a competent witness8
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


to be a competent witness9
To be a competent witness

5. Understand the concept of lying

6. Understand the moral ties of social contracts


interview repetition
Interview Repetition

Effects of repeated questions:

  • Less accurate
  • Prone to suggestibility
  • Modify responses

(Larsson, Granhag, & Spjut, 2003)

child credibility debate
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)

developmental trends person recognition
Developmental Trends & Person Recognition
  • 5-11 years of age, identification improves steadily
  • 12 years old to 17 years old


cognitive interview ci
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)

ci continued
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)

ci continued15
CI continued
  • Helps reduce misleading questions
  • Witnesses are more likely to respond “I don’t know”

(Memon et al.,1996)

larsson granhag spjut 2003
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
larsson granhag spjut 2003 results
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.
larsson granhag spjut 2003 results cont
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.
summary thoughts
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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.