The effects of promising to tell the truth, the putative confession, and recall and recognition questions on maltreated and non-maltreated children's disclosure of a minor transgression

Jodi A. Quas, Stacia N. Stolzenberg, Thomas D. Lyon

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Abstract

This study examined the utility of two interview instructions designed to overcome children's reluctance to disclose transgressions: eliciting a promise from children to tell the truth and the putative confession (telling children that a suspect “told me everything that happened and wants you to tell the truth”). The key questions were whether the instructions increased disclosure in response to recall questions and in response to recognition questions that were less or more explicit about transgressions and whether instructions were differentially effective with age. A total sample of 217 4- to 9-year-old maltreated and comparable non-maltreated children and a stranger played with a set of toys. For half of the children within each group, two of the toys appeared to break while they were playing. The stranger admonished secrecy. Shortly thereafter, children were questioned about what happened in one of three interview conditions. Some children were asked to promise to tell the truth. Others were given the putative confession, and still others received no interview instructions. When coupled with recall questions, the promise was effective at increasing disclosures only among older children, whereas the putative confession was effective regardless of age. Across interview instruction conditions, recognition questions that did not suggest wrongdoing elicited few additional transgression disclosures, whereas recognition questions that explicitly mentioned wrongdoing elicited some true reports but also some false alarms. No differences in disclosure emerged between maltreated and non-maltreated children. Results highlight the potential benefits and limitations of different interviewing approaches when questioning reluctant children.

LanguageEnglish (US)
Pages266-279
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Volume166
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

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Disclosure
Interviews
Play and Playthings
Confidentiality

Keywords

  • Child maltreatment
  • Disclosure
  • Forensic interview
  • Promise
  • Putative confession
  • Reluctance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

Cite this

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abstract = "This study examined the utility of two interview instructions designed to overcome children's reluctance to disclose transgressions: eliciting a promise from children to tell the truth and the putative confession (telling children that a suspect “told me everything that happened and wants you to tell the truth”). The key questions were whether the instructions increased disclosure in response to recall questions and in response to recognition questions that were less or more explicit about transgressions and whether instructions were differentially effective with age. A total sample of 217 4- to 9-year-old maltreated and comparable non-maltreated children and a stranger played with a set of toys. For half of the children within each group, two of the toys appeared to break while they were playing. The stranger admonished secrecy. Shortly thereafter, children were questioned about what happened in one of three interview conditions. Some children were asked to promise to tell the truth. Others were given the putative confession, and still others received no interview instructions. When coupled with recall questions, the promise was effective at increasing disclosures only among older children, whereas the putative confession was effective regardless of age. Across interview instruction conditions, recognition questions that did not suggest wrongdoing elicited few additional transgression disclosures, whereas recognition questions that explicitly mentioned wrongdoing elicited some true reports but also some false alarms. No differences in disclosure emerged between maltreated and non-maltreated children. Results highlight the potential benefits and limitations of different interviewing approaches when questioning reluctant children.",
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