Reducing Motivational Barriers to Oath-Taking Competence in Maltreated Children
16 Pages Posted: 24 Feb 2000
Date Written: 2000
Before allowing child witnesses to testify, courts routinely require children to describe what would happen to them if they lied. However, young children often refuse to reason hypothetically if they view the premises as implausible or undesirable, and might be more willing to discuss the consequences of lying if they are asked about another child rather than themselves. On the other hand, children might view themselves as invulnerable to punishment, and therefore believe that whereas other children will be punished for lying, they will not be. In this study, 64 maltreated 5- and 6-year-old children were asked to describe the consequences of lying to three professionals (a judge, a social worker, and a doctor). Participants in the "self" condition were asked what would happen to them if they lied, whereas participants in the "other" condition were asked to describe what would happen to a story child if he or she lied. Asking children about "other" children increased responsiveness, but did not reveal perceptions of invulnerability. Previous research on children's understanding of lying has not explored motivational barriers to competence nor tested children actually appearing in court. The results highlight the importance of questioning child witnesses in a developmentally appropriate manner so that their abilities are not underestimated.
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