The Effects of Secret Instructions and Yes/no Questions on Maltreated and Non-maltreated Children's Reports of a Minor Transgression

Elizabeth C. Ahern, Stacia Roosevelt, Kelly McWilliams, Thomas D. Lyon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

10 Scopus citations

Abstract

This study examined the effects of secret instructions (distinguishing between good/bad secrets and encouraging disclosure of bad secrets) and yes/no questions (DID: “Did the toy break?” versus DYR: “Do you remember if the toy broke?”) on 262 maltreated and non-maltreated children's (age range 4–9 years) reports of a minor transgression. Over two-thirds of children failed to disclose the transgression in response to free recall (invitations and cued invitations). The secret instruction increased disclosures early in free recall, but was not superior to no instruction when combined with cued invitations. Yes/no questions specifically asking about the transgression elicited disclosures from almost half of the children who had not previously disclosed, and false alarms were rare. DYR questions led to ambiguous responding among a substantial percentage of children, particularly younger children. The findings highlight the difficulties of eliciting transgression disclosures without direct questions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)784-802
Number of pages19
JournalBehavioral Sciences and the Law
Volume34
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Law

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