Children's Recall and Testimony
JASON J. DICKINSON
DEBRA A. POOLE
RACHEL L. LAIMON
Beginning in the 1980s, a number of legal and sociopolitical movements thrust children onto the center stage of the legal arena, fostering unprecedented interest in their ability to recall autobiographical events. In today's courtrooms, children's reports are considered when rendering judgments about custody, relied upon to make prosecutorial decisions regarding suspected sexual abuse, and elicited to flesh out evidence in product liability and personal injury lawsuits. But regardless of how children come to play a role in forensic investigations, the legal arena is fundamentally a forum for resolving disputes, and therefore their reports are frequently challenged. In the midst of contentious and high-stake battles, legal and social service professionals often turn to memory researchers for information about the strengths and limitations of children's testimony.
Academicians who stray into the world of courtroom drama invariably find themselves in an uncomfortable situation. Whether they are on the witness stand or writing policy papers, researchers are typically asked to advance brief, straightforward conclusions about recall and testimony, even when there are numerous exceptions to their findings. As the resulting aphorisms gain momentum, people begin to apply them so broadly that misunderstandings arise. This chapter focuses on conclusions about children's reports that are sometimes given so much weight—regardless of the circumstances—that it may be time to abandon them altogether.
Many misunderstandings about children's testimony arose when findings from studies that did not involve memory contamination were generalized to situations involving suggestive influences. To prevent further confusion, this