IPT Book Reviews


Memory and Testimony in the Child Witness  Negative Review

Editors: Maria S. Zaragoza, John R. Graham, Gordon C. N. Hall, Richard Hirschman, and Yossef S. Ben-Porath
Publisher: Sage Publications, Inc., 1995

Sage Publications, Inc.
2455 Teller Rd.
Thousand Oaks, CA 91320
(805) 499-0721
$48.00 (c), $18.36 (p)

This 298-page book consists of presentations delivered in 1993 at the Fifth Annual Kent (Ohio) Psychology Forum. The stated goal of the book is to provide a readable and comprehensive overview on current research on assessing and enhancing the quality of children's eyewitness testimony. The contributors, who are all well-known researchers in children's memory; include Robyn Fivush, Debra Poole, Amye Warren, Peter Ornstein, Gail Goodwin, Rhona Flin, Graham Davis, Karen Saywitz, Stephen Lindsay, and Judy DeLoache. The chapters provide a wealth of information about the many variables that influence the quality and quantity of statements that children make.

The book is divided into three major sections. The five chapters in the first section, on approaches to understanding children's eyewitness memory; include a wide range of research concerning children's ability to accurately report events they have experienced. In the four chapters in the second section, the authors discuss various techniques that have been developed for use in improving children's testimony. The three chapters in the final section on social policy issues focus on legal reforms, including the use of closed-circuit television. The book ends with 22 pages of references and an index.

Of particular interest is the chapter by DeLoache on the use of anatomical dolls in interviewing young children about suspected abuse. DeLoache found that very young children do not understand the correspondence between models and what they represent, and therefore cannot use the dolls to enact their own experiences. She concludes that the presence of the doll might interfere with the memory reports of very young children; in her study children reported less information using the doll than they did through verbal statements or gestures to their own bodies. This important research should be understood by anyone dealing with the use of dolls in forensic interviews.

Another important chapter is by Poole and White. These researchers looked at the effects of multiple interviews over long periods of time. In actual cases, multiple interviews and this type of delay is not unusual. In their own research, they examined children's memory for a staged event that occurred two years earlier. Poole and White conclude that properly conducted early interviews can consolidate accurate memories for an event, but that even free recall can he contaminated by frequent exposure to misinformation.

Although the chapters in this volume broaden our perspective and increase our knowledge, little of their content is transferred to the real world. The chapters provide few practical solutions to dealing with the child witness and the book is not likely to be useful to practitioners and lay people who are not already familiar with the issues and research.

Reviewed by LeRoy G. Schultz, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, West Virginia University.

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