Kids' court testimony may be better than adults

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12 Responses to “Kids' court testimony may be better than adults”

  1. scottfree says:

    But surely kids are more susceptible to influence and leading questions, hence the real problem. It may not be memories so much as how memories are communicated.

  2. Antinous says:

    But surely kids are more susceptible to influence and leading questions, hence the real problem.

    To the contrary, children are more likely to just blurt what they think. Adults modify because they understand better how to read their audience in order to fit in. Are you unfamiliar with the work of Art Linkletter?

  3. help i cant comfirm my username themelonbread says:

    keywords in this story are “when properly questioned”. we all know what enabled satanic panic in the 80s.

  4. noen says:

    This is BS. The child abuse hysteria in the 80′s and 90′s proved otherwise. Children are easily influenced by even well meaning adults. The memories of the children in the McMartin case (and in countless others) were contaminated by their parents and the social workers.

    We are social creatures and our sense of reality is defined by the community we find ourselves in.

  5. noen says:

    Ah yes, that would be the important distinction. Of course, when improperly questioned children, unlike adults, will say the darnedest things.

  6. Skep says:

    Indeed. Kids will say what you want them to, especially if you keep ignoring their original answers they way investigators do with adults.

    All memory is malleable. The mistake is believing that anyone’s memory is like a photography. The malleably in children and adults has been proven time and time again.

    What this study actually showed was that kids memories were less mediated, not that they weren’t malleable under leading questioning.

  7. morcheeba says:

    Have you heard a kid recount a movie? I head the story of “big momma’s house” & it took an hour — an amazing half the time of the original movie. The storytelling stuck closely to recalling the sequences of events. If you ask a child what happened (without probing) I could see it as reliable, but cross-examination is totally different.

  8. robcat2075 says:

    I learned while teaching school that kids will say anything, without regard for obvious facts, if they think it’s the answer that will gain approval.

    “did you break that lamp?”

    “No, I swear to God I didn’t break the lamp!”

    Their memories might be fine, but integrity and honesty are still works in progress.

  9. seamountie says:

    Robcat has it in one. The courts are concerned with whether the child can appreciate the significance of their testimony, know the difference between truth and lies, and between reality and imagination.

    That said, I have found that a child’s memory of things is less colored by their past experience, ’cause they have had less past experience. But you have to be able to understand that things are seen from a child’s perspective.

    I spent 26 years as a cop, and I always found that a child’s description was hands down better than an adults. One particular incident is a perfect example, occurring when I was a rookie. We were looking for a suspicious person hanging around a path used by kids. Only kids has seen this person, and I was taking statements from those kids who had seen this guy. The older the kid, the more compartmentalized the description. The youngest witness (about 5 years) described the suspect clothes well, then as a “monster with a horn coming out of his head”.

    Right.

    When I located the suspect, he was a young man who was prohibited from drinking, and would go off and drink to insensibility. His face got cold so he wore a Halloween mask – of a monster with a short horn coming out of his forehead.

    Oooops.

  10. ornith says:

    I’ve got a degree in Cognitive Science. We covered witness unreliabilty a fair bit in my classes, and I did a paper, in particular, about a big long journal article on what kids understand when. I don’t have the article or my paper handy, but I can give you the gist:

    A five year old can’t tell the difference between reality, make believe, and what they saw on TV. If you ran around with him on your shoulders playing superhero, he’s as likely as not to believe he was actually flying.

    Worse, kids only slowly develop what we call a “theory of mind”; that is, little kids don’t get that YOU don’t know everything THEY do. If three-year-old Suzy watched her teacher put her teddy bear under her desk while I was out of the room, when I come back, Suzy expects me to know where the teddy bear is. And if I tell her I saw a dragon – well, she doesn’t get what “lying” is yet. She may well declare tomorrow that she saw the dragon herself.

    Kids were performing differently than adults (to “Not interpreting” cuts both ways.

    And the emotional-moral sense to understand the need for truth in that situation – especially above the need to please the scary lawyer who talks in big words and asks leading questions? That comes later still. Think about what stupid decisions you made in high school or even college (and I include myself in that “you”). We treat juvenile offenders differently under the law for good reason.

    So basically, any testimony from a 6 year old falls under “reasonable doubt”, you’re probably ok with a 12 year old, and in between is iffy based on the question being asked and the maturity of the specific kid. I wouldn’t actually be surprised to discover that a 12-year-old or thereabouts is better than an adult, because they’ve got a good balance of cognitive factors for the task, but little kids just aren’t clear enough on reality and what other people know yet, let alone the importance of what they’re being asked.

  11. strathmeyer says:

    “This is BS. The child abuse hysteria in the 80′s and 90′s proved otherwise. Children are easily influenced by even well meaning adults. The memories of the children in the McMartin case (and in countless others) were contaminated by their parents and the social workers.

    We are social creatures and our sense of reality is defined by the community we find ourselves in.”

    Well, we all look forward to the thoughtful scientific analysis you are working on for us in order to show us that you aren’t just pulling stuff out of your ass.

  12. Jeff says:

    Children can be more easily manipulated by athority figures, such as their parents. Or the kind of therapists that find things that were never there. As someone pointed out, this became painfully evidient in the Satanic abuse scandels a number of years ago. I hate to say it, but most psychology is very SOFT science and often fails because we can’t really do the kind of experimentation that is required to come up with hard facts.

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