The Effects of Secret Instructions and Yes/No Questions on Maltreated and Nonmaltreated Children's Reports of a Minor Transgression

40 Pages Posted: 27 Jan 2017 Last revised: 25 Feb 2017

Elizabeth C. Ahern

University of Cambridge

Stacia N. 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; University of Southern California - Department of Psychology

Date Written: February 24, 2017

Abstract

This study examined the effects of secret instructions (distinguishing between good/bad secrets and encouraging disclosure of bad secrets) and yes/no questions (DID: “Did the toy break?” versus DYR: “Do you remember if the toy broke?”) on 262 4- to 9-year old maltreated and nonmaltreated children’s reports of a minor transgression. Over two-thirds of children failed to disclose the transgression in response to free recall (invitations and cued invitations). The secret instruction increased disclosures early in free recall, but was not superior to no instruction when combined with cued invitations. Yes/no questions specifically asking about the transgression elicited disclosures from almost half of the children who had not previously disclosed, and false alarms were rare. DYR questions led to ambiguous responding among a substantial percentage of children, particularly younger children. The findings highlight the difficulties of eliciting transgression disclosures without direct questions.

Keywords: Child Forensic Interview, Truth Induction, Closed-Ended Questions

Suggested Citation

Ahern, Elizabeth C. and Stolzenberg, Stacia N. and McWilliams, Kelly and Lyon, Thomas D., The Effects of Secret Instructions and Yes/No Questions on Maltreated and Nonmaltreated Children's Reports of a Minor Transgression (February 24, 2017). 34 Behavioral Sciences & the Law 784-802 (2016); USC CLASS Research Paper No. CLASS17-8; USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 17-6. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2906542

Elizabeth C. Ahern (Contact Author)

University of Cambridge ( email )

Trinity Ln
Cambridge, CB2 1TN
United Kingdom

Stacia N. 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

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)

University of Southern California - Department of Psychology ( email )

Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

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