Can Different Types of Questions affect Children's Memory of Events?

Previous research has suggested that, when interviewing young children, responses to yes/no questions are less reliable than responses to multiple-choice questions (Peterson & Grant, 2001). However, according to fuzzy trace theory, some forms of multiple-choice questions should elicit higher error rates than yes/no questions. Fuzzy trace theory is a theory of cognitive development that suggests there are two types of memory traces: verbatim traces which include exact details of an experience, whereas gist traces represent the patterns and meanings extracted from that experience. Based on the assumptions of this theory,the authors of a recent study published in the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science explored the effect of question format (yes/no vs. multiple-choice), temporal delay (short delay vs. long delay) and age (4- to 6-year-olds, 7- to 9-year-olds, and 10- to 12-year-olds) on children's suggestibility for a naturalistic, potentially stressful event; namely, a dental procedure. Following the dental procedure, and again after a 6- to 8-week delay, children (N = 68) were given 24 forced-choice questions regarding the dental event. Consistent with fuzzy trace theory, the findings suggest that (a) multiple-choice questions can be more problematic than yes/no questions, especially after a delay, and (b) younger children are more suggestible than older children, particularly when asked “no” and “absent feature” questions. The findings are discussed with respect to implications for interviewing children.

For the abstract

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