Adults' Perceptions of Children's Referentially Ambiguous Responses

20 Pages Posted: 31 Oct 2018 Last revised: 10 Jul 2019

See all articles by Breanne Wylie

Breanne Wylie

Brock University

Thomas D. Lyon

University of Southern California Gould School of Law

Alison O'Connor

Brock University

Christina Lapytskaia

York University

Angela Evans

Brock University Psychology Department

Date Written: July 8, 2019

Abstract

The present study examined adults’ (N = 295) interpretations of child witnesses’ referentially ambiguous “yes” and “no” responses to “Do You Know/Remember (DYK/R) if/whether” questions (e.g., “Do you know if it was blue?”). Participants were presented with transcripts from child sexual abuse cases modified based on question format (DYK/R vs. Direct) and child response type (Yes, No, I don’t know) in a between subjects design. We assessed whether adults recognized that children’s ambiguous responses were unclear, and if not, how they were interpreting children’s responses compared to the control (Direct) conditions. More specifically, we assessed whether adults interpreted children’s responses as answering the explicit (e.g., “No, I don’t remember”) or implicit (e.g., “No, it wasn’t blue”) question. Participants virtually never recognized ambiguous responses as unclear, and their interpretations were influenced by the attorney's question and child’s response type. In sum, these results suggest that DYK/R questions often lead to misinterpretation, resulting in miscommunication.

Keywords: jury, child witness, response interpretation, referential ambiguity, testimony

Suggested Citation

Wylie, Breanne and Lyon, Thomas D. and O'Connor, Alison and Lapytskaia, Christina and Evans, Angela, Adults' Perceptions of Children's Referentially Ambiguous Responses (July 8, 2019). 35 Psychology, Crime, & Law 729-738 (2019); USC CLASS Research Paper Series No. CLASS18-28; USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 18-31. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3275728

Breanne Wylie

Brock University ( email )

500 Glenridge Avenue
St. Catherines, Ontario L2S 3A1
Canada

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)

Alison O'Connor

Brock University ( email )

500 Glenridge Avenue
St. Catherines, Ontario L2S 3A1
Canada

Christina Lapytskaia

York University ( email )

4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3
Canada

Angela Evans (Contact Author)

Brock University Psychology Department ( email )

500 Glenridge Avenue
St. Catherines, Ontario L2S 3A1
Canada

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