The Effects of the Hypothetical Putative Confession and Negatively-Valenced Yes/No Questions on Maltreated and Non-Maltreated Children's Disclosure of a Minor Transgression

8 Pages Posted: 21 Sep 2016 Last revised: 19 Apr 2017

See all articles by Stacia Stolzenberg

Stacia Stolzenberg

Arizona State University (ASU) - School of Criminology & Criminal Justice

Kelly McWilliams

USC Gould School of Law

Thomas D. Lyon

University of Southern California Gould School of Law

Date Written: April 18, 2017

Abstract

This study examined the effects of the hypothetical putative confession (telling children “What if I said that [the suspect] told me everything that happened and he wants you to tell the truth?”) and negatively-valenced yes/no questions varying in their explicitness (“Did [toy] break?” vs. “Did something bad happen to the [toy]?”) on 206 4- to 9-year-old maltreated and non-maltreated children’s reports, half of whom had experienced toy breakage and had been admonished to keep the breakage a secret. The hypothetical putative confession increased the likelihood that children disclosed breakage without increasing false reports. The yes/no questions elicited additional disclosures of breakage but also some false reports. The less explicit questions (referencing “something bad”) were as effective in eliciting true reports as the questions explicitly referencing breakage. Pairing affirmative answers to the yes/no questions with recall questions asking for elaboration allowed for better discrimination between true and false reports. The results suggest promising avenues for interviewers seeking to increase true disclosures without increasing false reports.

Suggested Citation

Stolzenberg, Stacia and McWilliams, Kelly and Lyon, Thomas D., The Effects of the Hypothetical Putative Confession and Negatively-Valenced Yes/No Questions on Maltreated and Non-Maltreated Children's Disclosure of a Minor Transgression (April 18, 2017). 22 Child Maltreatment 167-173 (2017); USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 16-30; USC CLASS Research Paper No. CLASS16-28. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2840927

Stacia Stolzenberg

Arizona State University (ASU) - School of Criminology & Criminal Justice ( email )

411 N. Central Avenue
Phoenix, AZ Arizona 85004
United States
6024960495 (Phone)

Kelly McWilliams

USC Gould School of Law ( email )

699 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

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)

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