Truth induction in young maltreated children: The effects of oath-taking and reassurance on true and false disclosures
Objective: Two studies examined the effects of the oath or reassurance (“truth induction”) on 5- to 7-year-old maltreated children’s true and false reports of a minor transgression.
Methods: In both studies an interviewer elicited a promise to tell the truth, reassured children that they would not get in trouble for disclosing the transgression, or gave no instructions before questioning the child. In Study 1, childrenwere encouraged to play with an attractive toy by a confederate, who then informed them that they might get in trouble for playing. In Study 2, a confederate engaged children in play, but did not play with the attractive toy.
Results: In Study 1, the oath and reassurance increased disclosure among children who would qualify as competent to take the oath. In Study 2 neither the oath nor reassurance increased false reports among children who would qualify as competent, whether yes/no questions or tag questions were asked. Among non-competent children, reassurance (but not the oath) increased false reports. Children were more likely to accuse the confederate of the transgression than to implicate themselves.
Conclusions: The results suggest that a promise to tell the truth may increase true disclosures without increasing false allegations. Reassurance that specifically mentions the target activity also increases true disclosures, but may increase acquiescence among some children.
Practice implications: A child-friendly version of the oath may be a useful addition to child interviews.
Criminal Law | Criminal Procedure | Evidence | Law and Psychology
Date of this Version
Thomas D. Lyon and Joyce Dorado, "Truth induction in young maltreated children: The effects of oath-taking and reassurance on true and false disclosures" (May 2009). University of Southern California Legal Studies Working Paper Series. Working Paper 37.