10th February 2000
For immediate release
The results of a University of Sussex study on how children recall events could lead to important changes in the way evidence is gathered for court cases.
The current view is that witness accounts by children are unreliable for legal purposes because young children are more likely to agree to leading questions or suggested information.
However, a team of experimental psychologists at Sussex discovered that measuring a childís level of confidence when giving answers in a memory test provides a more accurate picture of the truth.
Lecturer and researcher Dr Wendy Garnham explained: "The confidence score is a much more sensitive measure. It allows us to tell whether children are agreeing to suggested information because they are just unsure or whether they are agreeing because itís something they really saw."
"These findings will have significant implications for the legal community as they can be used to develop a confidence measure for use in courtroom situations which will enable a much more accurate assessment of childrenís memories for events."
The research, which was carried out by Dr Garnham, Dr Ted Ruffman and Professor Alan Parkin with a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), involved examining the responses of 61 children aged between five and nine after showing them a video cartoon about Mick the Dog and then playing to them an auditory summary of the video that incorporated additional suggested material not seen.
The children had to state whether they remembered seeing particular events in the video, or whether they remembered hearing them mentioned in the summary. They were asked to rate their confidence in their answers on a scale between one and nine (with nine being extremely confident).
Although young children were more likely than older children to agree that they saw events that were merely suggested in the auditory summary, they also showed less confidence in these responses compared with recalling events that they had actually seen.
The findings support the theory that suggestibility is linked with the late maturation of part of the brain known as the frontal lobe, which is thought to be responsible for a range of abilities, including planning, impulse control and inhibition. The frontal lobes do not fully mature until adolescence. It has been shown that adults who suffer lesions to this area of the brain are more prone to suggestibility.
For further information please contact Dr Wendy Garnham, tel. 01273 678570,
email firstname.lastname@example.org or Information Office, tel. 01273 678888, fax 01273 877456,