Increasing Maltreated and Nonmaltreated Children's Recall Disclosures of a Minor Transgression: The Effects of Back-Channel Utterances, a Promise to Tell the Truth and a Post-Recall Putative Confession

39 Pages Posted: 3 May 2019

See all articles by Kelly McWilliams

Kelly McWilliams

City University of New York - John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Stacia Stolzenberg

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

Shanna Williams

University of Southern California

Thomas D. Lyon

University of Southern California Gould School of Law

Date Written: May 2, 2019

Abstract

Background: Children are often hesitant to disclose transgressions, particularly when they feel implicated, and frequently remain reluctant until confronted with direct questions. Given the risks associated with direct questions, an important issue is how interviewers can encourage honesty through recall questions.

Objective: The present study examined the use of three truth induction strategies for increasing the accuracy and productivity of children’s reports about a transgression.

Participants: A total of 285 4-to-9-year-old maltreated and non-maltreated children.

Methods: Each child took part in a play session with a stranger during which the child appeared to break some toys. A research assistant interviewed the child with narrative practice rapport building and recall questions. The study included manipulations of back-channel utterances (brief expressions used to communicate attention and interest), whether (and when) the child was asked to promise to tell the truth, and the use of a post-recall putative confession.

Results: Back-channel utterances failed to increase disclosure (OR = .79 [95% CI: .48, 1.31]) but increased the productivity of children’s reports about broken (p = .04, ηp = 0.02) and unbroken toys (p = .004, ηp = 0.03). A promise to tell the truth significantly increased children’s disclosures, but only among non-maltreated children (OR = 3.65 [95% CI: 1.23, 10.90]). The post-recall putative confession elicited new disclosures from about half of children who had failed to disclose.

Conclusions: The findings highlight the difficulties of eliciting honest responses from children about suspected transgressions and the need for flexible questioning strategies.

Suggested Citation

McWilliams, Kelly and Stolzenberg, Stacia and Williams, Shanna and Lyon, Thomas D., Increasing Maltreated and Nonmaltreated Children's Recall Disclosures of a Minor Transgression: The Effects of Back-Channel Utterances, a Promise to Tell the Truth and a Post-Recall Putative Confession (May 2, 2019). Forthcoming, Child Abuse and Neglect; USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 19-11; USC CLASS Research Paper No. CLASS19-11. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3381981

Kelly McWilliams (Contact Author)

City University of New York - John Jay College of Criminal Justice ( email )

524 W 59th St
New York, NY 10019
United States

Stacia Stolzenberg

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

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

Shanna Williams

University of Southern California ( email )

2250 Alcazar Street
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)

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