Children’s Memory Research Group
 
The Influence of Stereotypes on Credibility Ratings in Child Sexual Abuse Cases
In a previous study (Slinger & Connolly, 2009, May), we examined common stereotypes and perceptions that individuals hold about the complainant, the perpetrator, the situation, and the aftermath in a typical child sexual abuse (CSA) case. Results from this study allowed us to uncover common themes and patterns about “typical” CSA cases. We used this information in the following study.
 
Legal authorities, including investigators,judges, and juries, may find an allegation of a crime more or less credible based in part on peripheral information (Bornstein, Kaplan, & Perry, 2007). In the context of allegations of child sexual abuse, peripheral information may include stereotypical beliefs about things such as the child’s behaviour around the time of the alleged offense or the delay in time between the alleged abuse and its disclosure. Such information may be used even if it is actually irrelevant to the decision at hand.  
 
In this study, we’re interested in better understanding the circumstances in which people are more or less likely to rely on peripheral, irrelevant information when making credibility assessments and verdict decisions for a case of child sexual abuse. Participants in this study are asked to read a mock CSA case that includes or excludes stereotypical beliefs  and then answer a series of questions about the credibility of the parties.
The Deviation Study
In this study, we are investigating adult’s ability to recall instances of repeated events and how unusual occurrences that transpire during these routine experiences may influence memory for instances. Participants in our study read either one story or five similar stories about a magician who travels around the world performing her tricks. For some participants, in one of the stories, this magician was described as having a very unusual day that differed from the rest. After hearing these stories, participants are asked questions about what happened in each of the stories.
The Story Study
Autobiographical memory is the first type of memory to develop – observable even in infants – and continues to develop throughout our lives (Bauer, 2007). Among other things, autobiographical memory helps children to develop a personal identity (by creating a personal narrative about themselves) and to organize and structure thinking (by creating foundations for the development of sophisticated cognition and learning) (e.g., Fivush, 1998; Fivush & Nelson, 2004; 2006). Oftentimes, when we think of autobiographical memory, we remember unique and exciting experiences. However, most of our autobiographical memory actually involves multiple experiences with familiar events. In this study, we are investigating whether children remember information about repeated event similarly, whether learned vicariously and experientially.  
The Trade-Off Study
In this study, we examined whether variables that should affect the perceived credibility of a complainant actually affect the perceived credibility of the accused. In several studies involving allegations of sexual assault, the perceived credibility of a male accused has been influenced by variables that should have no effect on his credibility (e.g., a judicial declaration that a child witness is competent to testify.) In this study, we investigated this apparent “trade-off” by measuring a baseline level of perceived credibility of the complainant and of the accused, introducing new information that probably influences the perceived credibility of the complainant, and measuring the perceived credibility of the complainant and the accused again. We are also interested in knowing if this phenomenon is unique to sexual assault cases or if it extends to other kids of cases, such as witnessing a motor vehicle accident.
HCSA Credibility
Criminal prosecutions of child sexual abuse alleged to have occurred in the distant past raise myriad challenges, not the least of which is assessing the credibility of complainants. As difficult as is this task, when there is little or no corroborative evidence, such assessments can be determinative of trial outcome. We developed a strategy to study legal decisions involving allegations of sexual offenses against children. Based on this strategy, and in a series of studies, we are studying how judges describe their findings of credibility in trials involving timely and delayed allegations of child sexual abuse. In particular, we are studying how judges describe the complainants’ memory of the alleged abuse; how the judge describes the complainants’ conduct at the time of the alleged abuse, at the time of disclosure, and at trial; and the reliability of the allegation including its consistency and any corroboration.
The Influence of Event Frequency and Training on Children’s Accurate Responding
When criminal prosecutions of child sexual abuse (CSA) occur, the child is often asked to testify against the accused. With over 17, 000 allegations of sexual abuse investigated in a given year in Canada alone (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2003), understanding how children remember and report events is of critical importance. CSA often occurs repeatedly (e.g., Connolly & Read, 2006) and, in court, children are typically asked to report enough specific details to allow the defendant to raise a defence (Guadagno, Powell & Wright, 2006; Lamb et al., 2007; R. v. B.(G.), 1990). Unfortunately, children often have difficulty accurately recalling specific instances from a series of similar events and these reports may be especially compromised if suggestive interviewing techniques are used (Connolly & Lindsay, 2001; Connolly & Price, 2006; Powell & Roberts, 2002). Yet, despite what we know about the influence of event frequency on suggestibility, little information exists as to whether these children will maintain their false reports if challenged.
In this study, we were interested in better understanding whether children would be more or less likely to retract their false reports if they had experienced a series of repeated events (as opposed to just one single event) and whether a special set of instructions would help them retract their initial false reports and improve accurate responding. Children in our study participated in either one or four craft-sessions, in which they made a simple craft. After these sessions, children participated in two interviews. In the first interview, the interviewer asked some questions that contained minor suggestions. In the second interview, children were asked to questions about what they remembered from the actual craft sessions and given special instructions to help them distinguish between the suggested and experienced information.