It’s very easy to look at children’s testimony from a psychologist or a researcher’s perspective, but how would we respond if we were faced with a situation where a 5 year old child is accusing an adult of serious sexual abuse? Would we be quick to dismiss the strong accusation or would we examine the possibility of this event. In this essay evidence for and against the reliability of children’s testimony is evaluated, especially considering a delicate matter such as sexual abuse. It will start by outlining what developmental and cognitive psychologists have discovered to date about children’s memory capacity and how it differs from that of adults; then the focus will shift to literature on sexual abuse. Memory or remembering operates like any other aspect of development studied, its development is gradual, and this goes to say that children without doubt, don’t possess the same ability to remember as adults. The digit span for memory seems to increase with age, so for example a child of 3yrs will remember about 2 words and a child of 4 will remember 3 words from a presented list of word, and these are likely to be the last words (recency effect( Meadows,1986). There are three areas of memory that seem to show improvement in children as we progress through development: basic capacity, the amount of information that can be remembered in STM, children will develop strategies that will help transfer information into LTM and finally they will also have greater world knowledge; which means a greater context allowing for the integration of new information, therefore new memories. (Meadows, 1986)
There are many reasons why children show these deficits in memory. One of them is because they lack meta-cognition, basic beliefs and knowledge about memory, its dynamics, which is fundamental for understanding how information is learned. Children clearly don’t possess this meta-cognitive awareness to monitor past experiences and performance to update resource allocation strategies. (Castel, Humphreys, Lee, Balota and McCabe, 2011) This previous paragraphs were to convey the fact that children do have distinct abilities compared to adults, this tells us that their recall for witnessed events might lack in accuracy.
When we ask a child to give testimony for witnessing an event we are asking them to access their autobiographical memory, which includes a sketchy version of personal memories and experiences, diluted from all unnecessary details. This type of memory is highly subject to biases in attempting to maintain continuity and it often doesn’t follow the temporal frame.
Can children accurately recall events that they experience in the past accurately or do they often develop false memories of events that never took place? Some studies show that children as young as 5 can remember events quite well even after a period of delay preceding recall. (Flin, Boon, Knox and Bull (1992) gave children a talk on how to keep their feet clean, while the talk was happening an assistant staged tripping over and knocking over a side carousel. Recall was taken the day after the talk and 5 months later, similar to court proceedings. There was no relation found between age and amount of information recalled the following day, children age 6 recalled 17/ 26 items and adults recalled 18/26 items. However Flinn et al found that 5 months later 6 yr olds recall had decreased by 40 %. This study shows that children can remember quite well, however those memories are not fully stored in LTM . This event however isn’t a real life event neither is it of distressing nature like most events children are called to testify for in court cases. This could justify the high recall even for the younger children.
Research by Goodman, Hirschman, Hepps and Rudy (1991); Peterson and Whalen...