Perceptions of child witnesses: the impact of priming on adults’ perception of children’s credibility
Furlong, Mackenzie A. R.
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Adults, specifically police officers, jurors, judges, teachers, and parents, are often tasked with judging the credibility of children’s reports of an event. Those same individuals, who have a duty to be unbiased when assessing a child’s credibility, are often making their judgements off pre-existing beliefs. As such, there is a great deal of interest in understanding how children’s credibility may be impacted by the biases that adults have towards them. The phenomenon of ‘priming’ may explain how biases, either consciously or subconsciously, influence the decisions that individuals make. The present study examined whether priming individuals to consider a child’s morality, before asking them to make a decision about it, would impact the subsequent decision that they ended up making regarding that child’s credibility. Participants were asked to rate children’s honesty (i.e., trustworthiness and truthfulness) and cognitive ability (i.e., understanding and intelligence), according to the two-factor model, after watching a combination of videos. Results indicated that the priming manipulation did not impact adults’ later decision-making. We also found that, at best, adults’ were only slightly better than chance at detecting children’s lies. Consequently, adults’ confidence in their initial prediction (i.e., after watching the ‘first 5 guesses’ video) was significantly higher than their confidence in while making their final decision (i.e., after watching the ‘final guess’ video). This research will have significant implications, specifically in the legal context, where children’s perceived credibility, adults’ ability to distinguish honest from dishonest statements, and their confidence in the decisions they make are all important factors when assigning a final verdict.