Perceived Credibility of Children

Often, in cases involving child complainants there is no evidence other than the report of the child and the denial of the accused. Accordingly, perceived credibility is determinative at each stage of the investigative and adjudicative processes. Notably, children report unique events differently than they report instances of repeated events. Moreover, report characteristics that have been shown to adversely affect judgments of credibility are more likely to be present in reports of instances of repeated events than in reports of unique events. Using intuitive judgments (Connolly, Price, Lavoie, & Gordon, 2008) and a popular protocol for evaluating credibility, criteria-based credibility analysis (Connolly & Lavoie, submitted), we found that children’s reports of an instance of a  repeated event was judged to be less credible than children’s reports of a unique event, even when actual accuracy was controlled (Connolly et al., 2008). Children with mild intellectual disabilities were judged to be less credible than typically-developing children (Peled, Iarocci, & Connolly, 2004). As often happens in research, serendipitous questions arose. In much of our research on perceived credibility, we found that variables that should only effect perceptions of the child had the biggest impact on perceptions of the accused (e.g., a judicial declaration of competence; Connolly, Gagnon, & Lavoie, 2008).We are currently investigating explanations for this phenomenon. A second serendipitous question that arose in the context of this research concerns a seemingly ubiquitous effect of potential motive to fabricate on perceptions of credibility. In post-experimental questionnaires, participants in our studies often mentioned the child’s motive (or lack thereof) even when the materials were fully silent on the issue of motive. In Connolly, Coburn, and Yiu (in press) we reported data on the pervasiveness of motive explanations for credibility judgments from previous studies and we reported a new study that demonstrated the strong impact of motive on perceptions of credibility. We are working on developing hypotheses to explain this effect.  

Peled, M., Iarocci, G., & Connolly, D.A. (2004). Eyewitness testimony and perceived credibility of youth with mild mental retardation.  Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 48, 699-703.

Connolly, D. A., Price, H. L., & Lavoie J. A., & Gordon, H. M. (2008). Perceptions of children's reports of a unique event and an instance of a repeated event. Law and Human Behavior, 32, 92-112.

Connolly, D.A., Gagnon, N., & Lavoie, J. A. (2008). The effect of a judicial declaration of competence on the perceived credibility of children and defendants. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 13, 257-277.

Connolly, D. A. & Gordon, H. M. (2011). He-said-she-said: Contrast effects in credibility assessments and possible threats to fundamental principles of criminal law. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 16, 227-241.

Connolly, D. A., Coburn, P. I., & Yui, A. (in press). Potential motive to fabricate and assessment of child witnesses in sexual assault cases. Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology.

Connolly, D.A. & Lavoie, J. A. A.  (submitted). Discriminating veracity between children’s reports of a single, repeated, and fabricated events: A critical analysis of criteria-based content analysis. American Journal of Forensic Psychology.