Facilitating Maltreated Children's Disclosures Child maltreatment is one of the most serious threats to children's well-being. At the same time, substantial percentages of maltreated children never disclose maltreatment, disclose in an incomplete and unconvincing manner, or recant their allegations. As yet, little scientific research has directly and experimentally examined effective procedures for overcoming motivational barriers to disclosure. Given the critical importance of maltreated children's disclosure for the protection of children, it is imperative to understand factors affecting these children's willingness to disclose abuse and the accuracy and completeness of their reports. The proposed program of research will involve a series of novel laboratory and field experimental studies designed to identify interviewing methods that facilitate maltreated children's disclosures while minimizing false allegations. The project will address four specific aims: 1) To develop novel preparatory methods for eliciting disclosures from maltreated children without increasing the likelihood of false reports;2) to identify question-types that maximize the accuracy and completeness of maltreated children's disclosures;3) to identify verbal and nonverbal indices of accurate, complete, and credible reports;and 4) to experimentally test the efficacy of novel interviewing methods in field interviews.
Aims 1 and 2 will involve laboratory experimental studies with maltreated and non-maltreated children matched for SES and ethnicity who experience staged events so that ground truth is known. Interviewing techniques will be varied systematically to assess the how the techniques affect children's disclosures. Next, Aim 3 will involve computerized analyses of children's behaviors to identify the verbal and nonverbal indices of true and false reports and evaluations of professionals'and lay persons'perceptions of children's credibility. Finally, in Aim 4, the most promising approaches identified via the lab experiments will be employed in a field experiment that directly tests the effects of interviewing innovations on abuse disclosures in children identified as potential victims by social services. This is the only research program of this nature in the world: it combines laboratory and field experimental research methods to understand disclosure and non-disclosure in maltreated children. The research represents an unprecedented opportunity to advance theories of child development and developmental psychopathology and provide critical insight into best practice interview strategies that optimize accurate and credible disclosures in maltreated children. The implementation of such practices in social and legal services will improve the process by which maltreatment is investigated, and thus promote and protect children and their families.

Public Health Relevance

Child maltreatment is one of the most serious threats to children's well-being. The child's report is often an essential element in determining whether maltreatment occurred. This project will develop innovative interviewing methods for increasing true reports of abuse without increasing false allegations.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
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Study Section
Psychosocial Development, Risk and Prevention Study Section (PDRP)
Program Officer
Maholmes, Valerie
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University of Southern California
Other Domestic Higher Education
Los Angeles
United States
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Cleveland, Kyndra C; Quas, Jodi A; Lyon, Thomas D (2016) Valence, Implicated Actor, and Children's Acquiescence to False Suggestions. J Appl Dev Psychol 43:1-7
Ahern, Elizabeth C; Stolzenberg, Stacia N; Lyon, Thomas D (2015) Do Prosecutors Use Interview Instructions or Build Rapport with Child Witnesses? Behav Sci Law 33:476-92
Stolzenberg, Stacia N; Lyon, Thomas D (2015) Repeated Self- and Peer-Review Leads to Continuous Improvement in Child Interviewing Performance. J Forensic Soc Work 5:20-28
Ding, Xiao Pan; Wellman, Henry M; Wang, Yu et al. (2015) Theory-of-Mind Training Causes Honest Young Children to Lie. Psychol Sci 26:1812-21
Andrews, Samantha J; Lamb, Michael E; Lyon, Thomas D (2015) The effects of question repetition on responses when prosecutors and defense attorneys question children alleging sexual abuse in court. Law Hum Behav 39:559-70
Gordon, Heidi M; Lyon, Thomas D; Lee, Kang (2014) Social and cognitive factors associated with children's secret-keeping for a parent. Child Dev 85:2374-88
Bartlett, Marian Stewart; Littlewort, Gwen C; Frank, Mark G et al. (2014) Automatic decoding of facial movements reveals deceptive pain expressions. Curr Biol 24:738-43
Lyon, Thomas D; Evans, Angela D (2014) Young children's understanding that promising guarantees performance: The effects of age and maltreatment. Law Hum Behav 38:162-70
Stolzenberg, Stacia N; Lyon, Thomas D (2014) How Attorneys Question Children About the Dynamics of Sexual Abuse and Disclosure in Criminal Trials. Psychol Public Policy Law 20:19-30
Evans, Angela D; Stolzenberg, Stacia N; Lee, Kang et al. (2014) Young children's difficulty with indirect speech acts: implications for questioning child witnesses. Behav Sci Law 32:775-88

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