Psychology Dictionary of Arguments

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Slater I 109
Forensic interviews/children/forensic psychology: As can be gleaned from Ceci and Bruck’s review (1993)(1) and the multitude of literature that followed, interviewing a child witness is a delicate and complex process. An interviewer must be cognizant of the type, timing, and frequency of questions asked.
VsCeci/VsBruck: Some researchers felt the Ceci and Bruck review, which was narrowly defined to focus on suggestibility and therefore on children’s errors, placed too much emphasis on children’s production of false reports, neglecting research questions other than the possibility of false accusations (Lyon, 1995)(2).
Although the possibility of false accusations is a legitimate fear when interviewing a child, it is also important to consider children whose suggestibility may lead them to deny true accounts of abuse, as well as children who omit critical details of an actually experienced abusive event (Lindsay, 2007(3); Lyon, 1995(2); Lyon & Saywitz, 2006(4)).
How can interviewers dually increase true reports of abuse and decrease false reports? Children who have been abused do not always disclose when asked only opened-ended questions (Lindsay, 2007)(3). In addition, children do not always understand the context of this type of questioning. This can result in disclosures that may be incorrectly interpreted (Poole & Lindsay, 2001)(5).
Michael Lamb and colleagues developed the now popular National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Protocol (Lamb, Orbach, Hershkowitz, Esplin, & Horowitz, 2007)(6) for forensic interviewing of children in child sexual abuse cases. The protocol is structured to focus on free recall questions, followed by cued questions that incorporate information provided by the child himself or herself. By using only information provided by the child, the interviewer avoids providing misinformation, which has the danger of possibly distorting children’s reports – or the child’s credibility even if the report is not distorted (Lyon, 1995)(2).
Human figure drawings have largely replaced anatomically detailed dolls in forensic interviews. However, recent research has also raised concerns about use of such drawings to help children disclose their experiences (e.g., Bruck, 2009)(7). Thus, in the NICHD Protocol, props in general are prohibited.
>Suggestibility/Ceci/Bruck, >Suggestibility/Myers, >Suggestibility/social psychology, >Suggestibility/biological theories, >Arousal/psychological theories, >Sexual abuse/forensic psychology, >Stress/forensic psychology, >Memory/forensic psychology.
Slater I 113
In a study of Gilstrap and Ceci (2005)(8) three- to seven-year-olds were interviewed by legal professionals about an event staged by researchers (a magician’s visit to the children’s classrooms). Results indicated that inaccurate misleading questions were the only type of questioning associated with children’s acquiescence. Nevertheless, in regard to children’s accuracy, “it was possible to predict directly from child-to-child behavior, effectively skipping the intervening adult behavior” (p. 40). In other words, children’s accuracy could be predicted using only the child’s input from the interview, removing all questions asked by the interviewer. Thus, overall, the children’s suggestibility errors were not driven by the adult questioning.
VsCeci/VsBruck: the relatively simplistic and arguably negative picture painted by Ceci and Bruck (1993)(1) has been replaced by a more nuanced understanding, based on a worldwide effort of scientific research.



1. Ceci, S. J., & Bruck, M. (1993). The suggestibility of the child witness: A historical review and synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 113, 403–439.
2. Lyon, T. D. (1995). False allegations and false denials in child sexual abuse. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 1, 429–437.
3. Lindsay, D. S. (2007). Autobiographical memory, eyewitness reports, and public policy. Canadian Psychology, 48, 57–66.
4. Lyon, T. D., & Saywitz, K. J. (2006). From post-mortem to preventive medicine: Next steps for research on child witnesses. Journal of Social Issues, 62, 833–861.
5. Poole, D. A., & Lindsay, S. D. (2001). Children’s eyewitness reports after exposure to misinformation from parents. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 7, 27–
6. Lamb, M. E., Orbach, Y., Hershkowitz, I., Esplin, P. W., & Horowitz, D. (2007). A structured forensic interview protocol improves the quality and informativeness of investigative interviews with children: A review of research using the NICHD Investigative Interview Protocol. Child Abuse and Neglect, 31, 1201–1231.
7. Bruck, M. (2009). Human figure drawings and children’s recall of touching. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 15, 361–374.
8. Gilstrap, L., & Ceci, S. J. (2005). Reconceptualizing children’s suggestibility: Bidirectional and temporal processes. Child Development, 76, 40–53.


Kelly McWilliams, Daniel Bederian-Gardner, Sue D. Hobbs, Sarah Bakanosky, and Gail S. Goodman, „Children’s Eyewitness Memory and Suggestibility. Revisiting Ceci and Bruck’s (1993) Review“, in: Alan M. Slater & Paul C. Quinn (eds.) 2012. Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies. London: Sage Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Forensic Psychology
Slater I
Alan M. Slater
Paul C. Quinn
Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2012


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