Behavioral Sciences & the Law

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

The Emotional Child Witness Effect Survives Presentation Mode (pages 113-125)

The emotional witness effect – the phenomenon whereby people are affected by the emotional manner in which a witness presents testimony – constitutes a possible source of wrongful decisions in legal contexts. One stereotypical view of abused children is that they should be sad when talking about their experiences of maltreatment, whereas children may in fact express a variety of emotional expressions when talking about abusive events. This raises the question as to whether there is an optimal mode in which to present child victim testimony that could reduce the possible influence of displayed emotions. In the present study, mock police interviews were carried out with female child actors, role‐playing the victims of physical abuse by their stepfather, telling the same story with four emotional expressions (neutral, sad, angry, or positive). Laypersons (N = 465) were presented with the interviews as transcripts with the emotional reactions of the child witness noted, audio recordings, or videotaped recordings. Participants then rated the credibility of the victim witness. Replicating previous results, the “sad” expression elicited the highest credibility ratings across all modes of presentations. Presentation mode affected ratings of credibility, with the transcript versions resulting in the highest ratings. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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