The present study examined adults’ (N = 295) interpretations of child witnesses’ referentially ambiguous “yes” and “no” responses to “Do You Know/Remember (DYK/R) if/whether” questions (e.g., “Do you know if it was blue?”). Participants were presented with transcripts from child sexual abuse cases modified based on question format (DYK/R vs. Direct) and child response type (Yes, No, I don’t know) in a between subjects design. We assessed whether adults recognized that children’s ambiguous responses were unclear, and if not, how they were interpreting children’s responses compared to the control (Direct) conditions. More specifically, we assessed whether adults interpreted children’s responses as answering the explicit (e.g., “No, I don’t remember”) or implicit (e.g., “No, it wasn’t blue”) question. Participants virtually never recognized ambiguous responses as unclear, and their interpretations were influenced by the attorney's question and child’s response type. In sum, these results suggest that DYK/R questions often lead to misinterpretation, resulting in miscommunication.
Child Psychology | Criminal Law | Criminal Procedure | Developmental Psychology | Evidence | Family Law | Juvenile Law | Law | Law and Psychology
Date of this Version
Breanne E. Wylie, Thomas D. Lyon, Alison M. O'Connor, Christina Lapytskaia, and Angela Evans, "Adults' Perceptions of Children's Referentially Ambiguous Responses" (July 2019). University of Southern California Legal Studies Working Paper Series. Working Paper 277.