Children may be required to remember events particularly where they may have witnessed a traumatic incident which they may have to confront again during questioning. But how reliable are children’s recollections during these interviews? And can their recollections be influenced by the interviewer?
According to research presented at this week’s British Psychological Society Annual Conference by Dr Liz Kirk, children can easily be led to remember incorrect information through misleading gestures from adults. And this has serious implications for child-witness interviews.
In the study, children watched a video and were then questioned about what they had seen. After showing children a film of a woman wearing a hat, the researcher asked them “What was the lady wearing?” while performing an action similar to putting on a hat. When the questions were accompanied by gestures that mimicked the correct answer, children got the answer correct.
But when the researcher asked the same question and pretended to put on a pair of glasses, ninety-three per cent of children ignored what they’d seen in the video and insisted the woman had been wearing glasses instead.
All the children were highly susceptible to gesture and spoke about extra information fraudulently planted by the interviewer.
But most surprising was the fact that the children even incorporated the adult’s misleading gestures into their stories of what they’d seen on the video.
So, interviewers need to think very carefully not just about what they say, but how they say it!