Forensic Psychology

Specific Forms of Crimes

What can psychology tell us about child testimony?

Sometimes children are called upon to testify in court. This is particularly relevant in child abuse cases. How reliable is a child’s testimony? Research shows that children are just as capable as adults at recalling specific events accurately. Their memory, however, is highly susceptible to suggestion. In other words, they are easily led to recall things that did not actually happen, and then become convinced their new memories are accurate. Because of this, the reliability of the testimony of children is heavily dependant on the interviewer’s technique. Interviewers who ask leading questions, repeat the same question numerous times, or communicate a preference for one answer over another are more likely to extract inaccurate testimony from children. Additionally, children are easily intimidated by adult authority figures, particularly those in uniform, and may say what they believe the adult wants to hear rather than what they actually remember. The Kelly Michaels case is a tragic illustration of what can happen when child testimony is misused.


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