Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Faculty of Science
Investigators and prosecutors are heavily dependent on children’s testimony in abuse cases where physical evidence is often lacking, making children the sole source of information. Decades of research have shown that young children are indeed capable of accurately recalling events from the past. Findings from research on interview techniques suggest that interview aids such as dolls and human diagrams are often not helpful and pose risks of eliciting inaccurate reports unless they are used cautiously and non-suggestively at the end of the interview.
The timeline, which is a visual depiction of time, is another type of interview aid that is sometimes used to elicit information about time. However, no clear evidence about its risks and benefits to children’s recall has been established. This dissertation sought to answer two questions about the timeline in three experiments. First, does the timeline help children recall specific details about a repeated event and its respective temporal characteristics? Second, how do adults perceive the timeline as an interview aid in children’s recall of temporal details?
Using a repeated-event paradigm, the first two studies examined children’s recall of a repeated event when an interview used the timeline and without the timeline. The two studies also examined the effect of the timeline regarding two different types of interview questions. Namely, in the first study, children answered Wh-questions regarding a particular instance of a repeated event. Children in the timeline condition were less accurate and sometimes more suggestible than those in the control condition. There was no clear evidence in support of the visual aid. In Study 2, children’s spontaneous recall of target details in a repeated event was analyzed. Using the same repeated-event paradigm, 6- to 9-year-olds were asked to respond to open-ended recall prompts (i.e., “Tell me everything...”) with or without the timeline as a guide. The timeline did not lead to a more specific recall of the target items in the event. Results from Study 1 and 2 were in line with previous studies that demonstrated interview aids are generally not helpful to children’s recall and may pose risks of suggestibility.
Study 3 examined adults’ perceptions of children’s verbal recall and recall using a timeline. Two groups of adults watched two halves of a child’s interview about a summer camp. One group watched the child interviewed without a timeline first and then with a timeline; the other group watched the interview in the reverse order. Adults gave ratings on interview characteristics and overall credibility after each half of the interview. They also rated how they perceived the timeline (e.g., helpfulness of the timeline). When participants had only watched half of the interview, the perceived overall credibility did not differ between those who watched the verbal and the timeline halves. After watching the second half of the interview, the overall credibility changed based on how adults perceived the timeline. Specifically, when the verbal interview was seen first, adults’ change in the perceived credibility after seeing the timeline interview was positively correlated with their ratings of the timeline; when the timeline interview was seen first, their change in overall credibility after seeing the verbal interview was negatively correlated with their ratings of the timeline. Overall, participants did not differentiate children’s credibility and other interview characteristics solely based on whether a timeline was used.
The current dissertation investigated the role of the timeline in the recall of details from repeated events. Collectively, findings suggest that the timelines used in the current studies do not provide additional benefit to children’s verbal recall of repeated events. The risks associated with the timeline such as suggestibility and erroneous credibility perceptions also suggest that the timeline should be used with caution in investigative settings. Future research should focus on how to build upon a good verbal interview before introducing any interview aids.
Zhang, Huan Huan, "An Evaluation of the Timeline as a Memory Retrieval Aid for Children’s Recall of Specific Details from a Repeated Event" (2020). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 2236.
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