Comparative Evaluations Of Children's And Adults' Memory For The Central And Peripheral Details Of A Witnessed Event

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Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




The study reported here compared the ability of children and adults to remember the central and peripheral details of a witnessed event. One-hundred-and-eight subjects at the second grade level, the fifth grade level, and the college level viewed a videotape about a family interaction. An event of this type was used as opposed to typical events used in previous studies (e.g., a car accident) because it was believed that a family interaction would be more meaningful, familiar, and thus more memorable to children. Two weeks following the videotape, all subjects answered one of two questionnaires; a questionnaire asking misleading questions about the videotape, or a questionnaire asking questions about television and movie preferences (i.e., a filler questionnaire). Those subjects answering the misleading questionnaire were either forewarned about the misleading nature of the questions or told merely to read and answer the questions. Thus, three experimental groups were established at this time: a misled group, a forewarned group, and a control group. Three weeks following the videotape all subjects were individually interviewed about the central and peripheral details of the videotape. Multivariate and univariate analyses of variance revealed that children were at least as accurate as adults in remembering the central and peripheral details of the videotape. Fifth graders were found to be "immune" to the effects of the misleading information. They remembered more details overall than either the second graders or the college students. Fifth graders also remembered more peripheral details of the videotape than the second graders or the college students. Consistent with previous research, degree of certainty regarding responses was negatively correlated with accuracy for all age groups. The results indicate that the event used in this study was meaningful and memorable to children. This type of event may be more appropriate for comparing children's and adults' memory for witnessed events than the events used in previous studies which may not be meaningful to children. In the discussion it is suggested that juries be alerted to the findings regarding children's memory and the negative relationship between certainty of testimony and accuracy of testimony.


Education, Educational Psychology

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