According to reality-monitoring theory, memories of experienced and imagined events are qualitatively different, and can be distinguished by children from the age of 3. Across three studies, a total of 119 allegations of sexual abuse by younger (aged 3-8) and older (aged 9-16) children were analyzed for developmental differences in the presence of reality-monitoring criteria, which should characterise descriptions of experienced events. Statements were deemed likely or unlikely to be descriptions of actual incidents using independent case information (e.g., medical evidence). Accounts by older children consistently contained more reality-monitoring criteria than those provided by younger children, and age differences were particularly strong when the cases were deemed doubtful (Studies 1 and 2).
Roberts, K.P., & Lamb, M.E. (2010). Reality-monitoring characteristics in confirmed and doubtful allegations of abuse. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24, 1049-1079. First published online 1 Sep 2009. DOI: 10.1002/acp.1600