Truth Induction in Young Maltreated Children: The Effects of Oath-Taking and Reassurance on True and False Disclosures

USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 08-3

Child Abuse & Neglect, Vol. 32, p. 738, 2008

Posted: 11 Sep 2007 Last revised: 10 Jul 2012

See all articles by Thomas D. Lyon

Thomas D. Lyon

University of Southern California Gould School of Law

Joyce S. Dorado

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - David Geffen School of Medicine

Date Written: July 1, 2007

Abstract

Objective: Two studies examined the effects of the oath or reassurance (“truth induction”) on 5- to 7-year-old maltreated children’s true and false reports of a minor transgression.

Methods: In both studies an interviewer elicited a promise to tell the truth, reassured children that they would not get in trouble for disclosing the transgression, or gave no instructions before questioning the child. In Study 1, children were encouraged to play with an attractive toy by a confederate, who then informed them that they might get in trouble for playing. In Study 2, a confederate engaged children in play, but did not play with the attractive toy.

Results: In Study 1, the oath and reassurance increased disclosure among children who would qualify as competent to take the oath. In Study 2 neither the oath nor reassurance increased false reports among children who would qualify as competent, whether yes/no questions or tag questions were asked. Among non-competent children, reassurance (but not the oath) increased false reports. Children were more likely to accuse the confederate of the transgression than to implicate themselves.

Conclusions: The results suggest that a promise to tell the truth may increase true disclosures without increasing false allegations. Reassurance that specifically mentions the target activity also increases true disclosures, but may increase acquiescence among some children.

Practice implications: A child-friendly version of the oath may be a useful addition to child interviews.

Keywords: child witnesses, child abuse, lying, suggestibility

JEL Classification: K14, K39

Suggested Citation

Lyon, Thomas D. and Dorado, Joyce S., Truth Induction in Young Maltreated Children: The Effects of Oath-Taking and Reassurance on True and False Disclosures (July 1, 2007). Child Abuse & Neglect, Vol. 32, p. 738, 2008. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1010502 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1010502

Thomas D. Lyon (Contact Author)

University of Southern California Gould School of Law ( email )

699 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States
213-740-0142 (Phone)
213-740-5502 (Fax)

Joyce S. Dorado

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - David Geffen School of Medicine

1000 Veteran Avenue, Box 956939
Los Angeles, CA 90095-6939
United States

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