Reducing Motivational Barriers to Oath-Taking Competence in Maltreated Children

16 Pages Posted: 24 Feb 2000

See all articles by Thomas D. Lyon

Thomas D. Lyon

University of Southern California Gould School of Law

Karen J. Saywitz

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

Debra L. Kaplan

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Joyce S. Dorado

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

Date Written: 2000

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

Lyon, Thomas D. and Saywitz, Karen J. and Kaplan, Debra L. and Dorado, Joyce S., Reducing Motivational Barriers to Oath-Taking Competence in Maltreated Children (2000). USC Law School, Olin Working Paper No. 99-25 (Revised version of USC Olin Working Paper No. 98-9). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=209609 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.209609

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)

Karen J. Saywitz

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

1000 Veteran Avenue, Box 956939
Los Angeles, CA 90095-6939
United States
310-222-4262 (Phone)
310-328-7217 (Fax)

Debra L. Kaplan

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

405 Hilgard Avenue
Box 951361
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1361
United States

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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