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Emotional children's testimonies are judged as more credible

Date:
March 31, 2014
Source:
University of Gothenburg
Summary:
A new study show 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.
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A new study from the University of Gothenburg, show 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-police 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 law students 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 children say and not on how they say it,' says Sara Landström.


Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by University of Gothenburg. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Sara Landström, Karl Ask, Charlotte Sommar, Rebecca Willén. Children's testimony and the emotional victim effect. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 2013; DOI: 10.1111/lcrp.12036

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University of Gothenburg. "Emotional children's testimonies are judged as more credible." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 March 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140331113851.htm>.
University of Gothenburg. (2014, March 31). Emotional children's testimonies are judged as more credible. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 2, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140331113851.htm
University of Gothenburg. "Emotional children's testimonies are judged as more credible." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140331113851.htm (accessed August 2, 2015).

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