Child Witnesses

In N. Brewer & A.B. Douglass, eds., Psychological Science and the Law (New York, NY: Guilford), pp. 157-181 (2019)

USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 17-26

USC CLASS Research Paper No. CLASS17-27

28 Pages Posted: 20 Nov 2017 Last revised: 29 Mar 2019

See all articles by Thomas D. Lyon

Thomas D. Lyon

University of Southern California Gould School of Law

Kelly McWilliams

USC Gould School of Law

Shanna Williams

University of Southern California

Date Written: March 26, 2019

Abstract

In this chapter we provide an overview of psychological issues involving children’s capacities as witnesses. First, we discuss the kinds of cases in which children are usually involved. Across different courts, one most often sees children describing abuse at the hands of familiar adults. Second, we describe the difficulties children encounter in disclosing abuse, particularly when it is perpetrated by adults close to them. These dynamics lead most children to remain silent, and only the most forthcoming children to disclose. Third, we suggest a framework for assessing children’s allegations, in which child-generated and adult-generated information lie on opposite ends of a spectrum. Child-generated information is preferable because it minimizes the likelihood of adult influence. The primary problem with poorly trained interviewers is that they rely too much on recognition questions, in which the child merely accepts or rejects information the adult generates. Fourth, we discuss suggestibility, and review research demonstrating that recognition questions are not inherently suggestive. Rather, we argue that the primary problem with recognition questions is captured by the phenomenon of formal reticence, whereby children provide minimally responsive answers to questions based on the form of the question. Children routinely answer yes/no questions with unelaborated yes or no answers, and interviews filled with recognition questions lead to a host of problems, including responses that are underinformative and ambiguous, and questions that are linguistically difficult and fail to capture the child’s perspective.

Suggested Citation

Lyon, Thomas D. and McWilliams, Kelly and Williams, Shanna, Child Witnesses (March 26, 2019). In N. Brewer & A.B. Douglass, eds., Psychological Science and the Law (New York, NY: Guilford), pp. 157-181 (2019); USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 17-26; USC CLASS Research Paper No. CLASS17-27. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3073290

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)

Kelly McWilliams

USC Gould School of Law ( email )

699 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

Shanna Williams

University of Southern California ( email )

2250 Alcazar Street
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
58
Abstract Views
313
rank
360,445
PlumX Metrics