Behavioral Sciences & the Law

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Volume 34 Issue 1 (January/February 2016), Pages 1-245

Adults' Insensitivity to Developmental Changes in Children's Ability to Report When and How Many Times Abuse Occurred (pages 126-138)

In legal settings, children are frequently asked to provide temporal information about alleged abuse, such as when it occurred and how often. Although there is a sizeable body of work in the literature regarding children's ability to provide such information, virtually nothing is known about how adults evaluate the veracity of that information. This omission is especially noteworthy given that adults' evaluations are critical to the progression and outcome of legal cases. We examined adults' perceptions of children's reports of temporal details regarding alleged sexual abuse. We varied both children's age (6 vs. 11 years) and how certain children were when providing such details to assess whether adults were sensitive to changes in how children of different ages typically talk about temporal information. With regard to credibility, adults were insensitive to children's age, perceiving younger and older children who reported temporal details with confidence as more credible than those who reported information tentatively. Normative developmental trends, however, would suggest that, with age, children are often tentative when reporting true temporal details. With regard to perceptions of children's accuracy in reporting temporal information, adults found younger children who were confident to be the most accurate. Regarding guilt judgments, adults rated defendants as having a higher degree of guilt when children were confident in reporting temporal details. The findings have implications for juror decision‐making in cases of alleged sexual abuse in which children report when or how often abuse occurred. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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