The Influence of Disclosure History and Body Diagrams on Children’s Reports of Inappropriate Touching: Evidence From a New Analog Paradigm

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Abstract

We tested a new paradigm for child eyewitness research that incorporates children’s disclosure histories into analog study designs. Mr. Science—Germ Detective creates meaningful touching experiences and varied patterns of preinterview disclosures by convincing children that touching in the laboratory is potentially contaminating (germy). Children (N = 287, 4 to 8 years) heard that Mr. Science could no longer touch children’s skin and then participated in an educational program involving 2 attempted touches. A week later, their disclosure histories were determined by a phone call that occurred a day before a forensic-style interview in the laboratory. This interview was delivered in 1 of 2 conditions: with early open-ended and more focused prompts delivered without a diagram (conventional-first condition) or with an initial diagram-assisted phase (diagram-first condition). Results confirmed that the new paradigm produces salient touches and performance patterns across open-ended and more focused questions that mirror well-known findings in eyewitness studies. A diagram made it easier for research assistants to elicit detailed reports of touching, but only among children 5 years and older who had not previously disclosed. Accuracy rates were comparable across interview conditions for early substantive phases but declined among older children when interviewers used diagrams to elicit additional reports late in interviews. These findings demonstrate that disclosure history is an important variable to include in analog study designs and confirm that Germ Detective is a promising paradigm for initial tests of new interviewing strategies.

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