Interviewers’ gestures mislead child-witnesses

  • The gesture signs that influence children’s recollection of an event
  • Study has “serious implications” for child-witness interviews

Children can easily be led to remember incorrect information through misleading gestures from adults, according to researchers from the University of Hertfordshire.  These findings are being presented this week at the British Psychological Society Annual Conference.

Psychologists from the University played children a video and then asked them to recount what they had seen. The children were then questioned about what they remembered.

After showing children a film of a woman wearing a hat, the researcher asked them “What was the lady wearing?” while performing an action similar to putting on a hat. When the questions were accompanied by gestures that mimicked the correct answer, children got the answer correct.

But when the researcher asked the same question and pretended to put on a pair of glasses, ninety-three per cent of children ignored what they’d seen in the video and insisted the woman had been wearing glasses instead.

University of Hertfordshire psychologist Dr Liz Kirk said: “We wanted to explore the differences in gesture misinformation by comparing younger and older children and how they incorporated this non-verbal information into their account of what they saw.

“All the children were highly susceptible to gesture and spoke about extra information fraudulently planted by the interviewer. But what most surprised us was the fact that the children even incorporated the adult’s misleading gestures into their stories of what they’d seen on the video.

“This study demonstrates the extent to which the gestures were included into the children’s accounts of what they saw.

“This has serious implications for forensic interview of child witnesses, particularly where they may have witnessed a traumatic event which they may have to confront again during questioning. Interviewers need to think very carefully not just about what they say, but how they say it.”

ENDS

For more information, please contact Julie Cooper, University of Hertfordshire Press Office on 01707 284095, Email: j.cooper5@herts.ac.uk

Notes to Editor

About the University of Hertfordshire

The University is the UK’s leading business-facing university and an exemplar in the sector.  It is innovative and enterprising and challenges individuals and organisations to excel.  The University of Hertfordshire is one of the region’s largest employers with over 2,300 staff and a turnover of almost £231 million.

With a student community of over 27,700 including more than 2,900 international students from over eighty-five different countries, the University has a global network of over 170,000 alumni.  

The University of Hertfordshire was awarded ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year 2010’ by the Times Higher Education (THE) and ranks in the top 4% of all universities in the world according to the recent THE, World University Rankings.

For more information, please visit www.herts.ac.uk

Did you know….? Over 3,700 new teachers have qualified from the university of Hertfordshire in the last 10 years – We are open minds!

Find out more at  go.herts.ac.uk/didyouknow

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• The University of Hertfordshire is the UK’s leading business-facing University and an exemplar in the sector. It is innovative and enterprising and challenges individuals and organisations to excel. • The University of Hertfordshire is one of the region’s largest employers with over 2,425 staff and a turnover of more than £234 million. With a student community of over 25,100 including more than 2,900 international students from over 120 different countries, the University has a global network of over 175,000 alumni. For more information, please visit www.herts.ac.uk • The University of Hertfordshire was awarded the Times Higher Education ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year 2010’.

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Quick facts

After showing children a film of a woman wearing a hat, the researcher asked them “What was the lady wearing?” while performing an action similar to putting on a hat. When the questions were accompanied by gestures that mimicked the correct answer, children got the answer correct. But when the researcher asked the same question and pretended to put on a pair of glasses, ninety-three per cent of children ignored what they’d seen in the video and insisted the woman had been wearing glasses instead.
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Quotes

All the children were highly susceptible to gesture and spoke about extra information fraudulently planted by the interviewer
Dr Liz Kirk, University of Hertfordshire
This has serious implications for forensic interview of child witnesses, particularly where they may have witnessed a traumatic event which they may have to confront again during questioning. Interviewers need to think very carefully not just about what they say, but how they say it.
Dr Liz Kirk, University of Hertfordshire