Emotional children's testimonies are judged as more credible

March 31, 2014

A new study from the University of Gothenburg shows that aspiring lawyers assess child complainants as more credible and truthful if they communicate their statement in an emotional manner. Thus, there is a risk that children that behave in a neutral manner may be perceived as less credible in court.

In an experimental legal psychology study, two young actors (one girl and one boy) portrayed victims in a mock- investigation. They were questioned by the police about how they had been harassed by older schoolmates. The police interviews were videotaped in two versions: In one version the children appeared in a neutral manner but in the other version, the children showed clear signs of distress, as they sobbed and hesitated before answering the police officers' questions.

The films were later shown and assessed by law students that were familiar with the Supreme Court's criteria for how to assess the credibility of testimonies.

The results show that the children, despite giving the exact same testimonies, were perceived as more credible and truthful when expressing emotions than when behaving in a more neutral manner. The reason for these differences was that the law students had stereotypical believes that child victims should appear emotional. The also felt greater compassion for the emotional children.

'This is problematic since many children don't display strong negative emotions when questioned by police,' says Sara Landström, researcher in legal psychology at the Department of Psychology. 'There is a risk that these children will be considered less credible in court.'

Since witnesses and technical evidence are often lacking in cases involving child abuse, courts are often forced to rely solely on the victim's own testimony 'It is therefore very important that courts assess the credibility of a testimony based on what say and not on how they say it,' says Sara Landström.

Explore further: 2 kids in Ontario allegedly poisoned at daycare

More information: The study is presented in an article titled Children's Testimony and the Emotional Victim Effect, which was published in the British journal Legal and Criminological Psychology in December.

Related Stories

China cracks down on medication of schoolchildren (Update)

March 18, 2014

China's education ministry ordered a nationwide investigation on Tuesday into whether schools are giving students medication without permission after a protest by parents of kindergarteners who were given an antiviral drug.

Recommended for you

Serious research into what makes us laugh

November 24, 2015

More complex jokes tend to be funnier but only up to a point, Oxford researchers have found. Jokes that are too complicated tend to lose the audience.

Psychologists dispute continuum theory of sexual orientation

November 19, 2015

Washington State University researchers have established a categorical distinction between people who are heterosexual and those who are not. By analyzing the reported sexual behavior, identity and attraction of more than ...

Babies have logical reasoning before age one, study finds

November 18, 2015

Human infants are capable of deductive problem solving as early as 10 months of age, a new study by psychologists at Emory University and Bucknell finds. The journal Developmental Science is publishing the research, showing ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.