"Children’s memory capacity and suggestibility"- A study of how young children remember stressful events.


This project comprises three logically connected parts, all within the field of witness psychology. The first framework study seeks to provide an overview of how actors in the criminal justice system regard children as witnesses. These questions are relevant because research from other countries has documented that actors in the criminal justice system do not always have attitudes that concur with what research has uncovered regarding factors that could potentially influence cases that will be processed in a court of law. In order to shed light on these research questions, we have prepared a questionnaire which will be distributed to a sample of 1500 actors in the criminal justice system.

The second and main study aims to examine which factors enhance and which detract from a 4 year old child’s ability to record, retrieve, and recount an actual sequence of stressfull events, which the child has participated in or observed. The study has five objectives: A key question in the study is to test which method (interview versus observation) is best suited to elicit the correct answer from the child, as well which method is more likely to result in a distorted or erroneous answer. Our second hypothesis is that observation contributes to increasing products of fantasy, so that observations are more likely than interviews to result in false testimony because the child has access to suggestive play material. This will lead the interviewer to false conclusions about what the child has experienced. We also look on how children who have a high degree of suggestibility perform during questioning and what differentiates them from the more successful children is individual factors such as intelligence, support, and attachment. Finally we are interested in the interviewer’s personality traits and how these might be related to children’s responses. The design of the study is experimental. All children are in a medical examination which is defined as stressful, and this is the event to be remembered. The children are subsequently tested twice by clinical psychologists and criminal detectors. Follow-up after last interview/observation.

In the second framework study, and final phase of the project we will examine how expert witnesses, police officers, and lawyers evaluate different video recordings of children who are being examined in an observational setting. The aim is to study whether observation as a method can aid both expert witnesses and jurors (laymen) when they need to evaluate a child’s testimony/behavior, or if the exercise in itself creates greater interpretation problems for both experts and laypeople.




Mail to: a.m.d.melinder@psykologi.uio.no