The effects of cross-examination on children’s reports

Date created: 
Repeated event
Single event
Perceived credibility

Cross-examination is a fundamental aspect of the adversarial legal system; it is meant to test the reliability of the evidence. To date, all research has examined the effect of cross-examination with children who have experienced a unique event. However, many children who testify have experienced multiple similar instances of abuse. In two experiments I investigated the effects of cross-examination on the consistency, accuracy, and perceived credibility of children’s reports. In Experiment 1(N = 222), younger children (kindergarten or grade 1) and older children (grade 3, grade 4, or grade 5) participated in either one (single-event; SE) or five similar (repeated-event; RE) magic shows. One-week later, children received a baseline interview which used best practice techniques. Next, half the children were cross-examined (cross) and the other half answered all cued recall questions again (direct-direct; DD). Finally, all children received a re-direct interview (Interview 3) and were encouraged to answer the questions as they remembered the details occurring during the show. In most analyses children in the cross condition were less accurate during Interview 2 than children in the DD condition. The re-direct interview helped to rehabilitate accuracy for variable details (vary in predictable ways); however, the negative effects of cross endured for accuracy of deviation details (vary in unpredictable ways) and when accuracy was defined broadly. In Experiment 2, recorded interviews of the children were randomly sampled and matched on accuracy. Undergraduate participants (N = 532) rated the children’s perceived honesty, accuracy, credibility, and susceptibility to suggestive questions. Younger children and RE children were perceived as less honest, accurate, and credible than older children and SE children. Children who were cross-examined were rated as less susceptible to suggestive questions than children in the DD condition. These results show that cross-examination has detrimental effects on children’s reports and that RE children may be disadvantaged when testifying in court.

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This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes. Copyright remains with the author.
Deborah Connolly
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Psychology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.