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Lecture 6

PSYC 376 Lecture 6: Unit 6

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Simon Fraser University
PSYC 376
Trishia Coburn

Unit 6: Childrens Suggestibility Challenges and Responses Introduction The literature you read in Unit 5 has been and continues to be criticized on the basis of generalizability. In addition to critical evaluation being a characteristic of good science, it is especially important in the context of childrens suggestibility because the implications of suggestibility research can be profound. In this unit you will learn about challenges to some of the early research on childrens suggestibility and how researchers have responded to the criticisms. In particular, researchers have begun to simulate circumstances that are more similar to those experienced by child witnesses. Many of the conclusions based on the kind of research described in Unit 5 generalize to circumstances that are more like the circumstances of the child witness. False Reports of Entire Events In Unit 5, the studies concerned childrens false reports of details of events that had occurred. It would be easy to criticize these studies on the grounds that false allegations of abuse often involve false reports of entire events. This is not always the case, however. Allegations of sexual abuse can arise in the context of otherwise benign events such as tickle games or bathtime. Sometimes, however, allegations arise as independent events and so it is important to study childrens false reports of entire events. As you will see next, it is surprisingly easy to lead some children to report complex, personally experienced events that had not occurred! In Pezdek and Hodge (1999), 5 to 7year olds and 9 to 12year olds were interviewed 2 or 3 times about four events that were said to have happened when the children were 4years old. Two events were true and two were false. The false events involved getting lost in the mall (plausible) and receiving an enema (implausible). For each event, the interviewer began with a description of what the childs mother said about the event followed by an invitation for the child to recall more. Between interviews children were asked to think hard about the event and try to remember more details. Fortysix percent of children reported at least one false memory and there were far more false memories about the plausible event than the implausible event. There were no age differences in the percent of children who reported that they recalled the false events and provided additional information about what had happened. Strange, Sutherland, and Garry (2006) used a similar paradigm to study 6 and 10year olds false memories for a hot air balloon ride and having tea with the Prince of Whales. Well over 20 percent of children reported false memories for the events and there were no differences between reports of the hot air balloon ride (more plausible) and having tea with the Prince of Whales (less plausible). An important difference between these studies was that in the Strange et al. study photographs were created that placed the children in a scene depicting the false event (e.g., the child having tea with the Prince of Whales) making the event more plausible. In Pezdek and Hodge, no attempt was made to increase the plausibility of the events. Although it may be easier to plant a false memory of a plausible event than an implausible event, perceived plausibility can be manipulated. Effect of a Prior Suggestive Interview on Responses to Free Recall Questions in an Unbiased Interview The literature on childrens suggestibility would be largely theoretical if a well conducted interview (see Units 3 and 4) reversed the effects of prior suggestions on childrens reports. That is not always the case, however. Prior suggestive interviews can have a deleterious effect on childrens responses to openended questions during subsequent unbiased interviews. In the Poole and Lindsays Mr. Science studies described in Unit 5, the suggestions were presented before the first interview that began with free recall (see Unit 5). In their 2001 study, 16 percent of the 3year olds and 29 percent of the 4year olds reported that they had experienced a science demonstration that was described in the book but had not been experienced. And, 11 percent of the 3yearolds and 32 percent of the 4yearolds reported the sexualized detail in free recall shortly after the suggestions were presented. In another demonstration of the effect of suggestive questions on childrens reports during a subsequent unbiased interview (Lepore Sesco, 1994), 4 to 6yearolds interacted with a research assistant for a few minutes followed
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