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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An investigation of the eyewitness abilities of children King, Mary Ann


This study was concerned with the eyewitness abilities of children. Children from four grades: 1, 4, 6, and Highschool individually witnessed both a live event and a slide event. The live event consisted of a male confederate enacting a plant care sequence. The slide event depicted the theft of a wallet. Following exposure to each event, the children responded to an eyewitness interview which included a request for a free report of the event and a description of an individual; a questionnaire involving nonleading and misleading questions and queries assessing meta-eyewitness awareness; a recognition memory task; and a photo-identification task. Participants were also given individual differences measures of reflectivity and verbal fluency. The results revealed young children (Grade 1 primarily) provided less information in free report tasks than older aged witnesses. Their performance did not improve in the presence of physical cues. Younger children were also more suggestible and less able to recognize aspects of an event and an individual's face. Age-related trends in performance were less evident in other findings from the study. Grade 1 children were no more likely to include incorrect information or to confuse temporal sequence in their free reports than older witnesses. Moreover the memory performance of the Grade 4 children (nine year olds) was better than the legal expectations of witnessing abilities in children under the age of fourteen. Responses to the meta-eyewitness questions also showed the majority of young children appeared to have some awareness of their limitations as witnesses. Some significant correlations between the individual difference measures included in the study and eyewitness performance were found. Finally, differences between the live event and slide event results were evident. Possible explanations for developmental trends in memory performance and suggestibility in child witnesses are discussed. The legal and methodological implications of the study's findings are also elaborated.

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