memory is the memory of something that is not true or of an event that
did not happen. They are constructd by the combination of actual
memories as well as suggestions or misinformtion from others (Loftus, 1997).
The False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) defines false memory as a state
in which one's identity focuses on a memory of a traumatic event that never
happened, but in which the person strongly believes (Enns, 1996).
Loftus (1997) has done extensive research on adults in the area of false
memory. She states that misinformation can alter one's memory in
predictable and forceful ways. Loftus and her students have done
over 200 experiments on the effects of misinformation. In one such
study, Loftus created an un-harmful pseudo-memory of being lost in the
mall at the age of five. After interviewing the relatives of the
participants, and being sure none of the participants had actually experienced
this pseudo-memory, Loftus and her students created booklets for the participants
containing three paragraphs of the participants' personal experiences and
one paragraph about the created memory. The participants were asked
to write about the events in as great a detail as they could. If
they could not remember an event they were asked to write, "I do not remember
this." In the booklets as well as in two separate follow-up interviews,
7 out of 24 participants (29%) recalled something about the mall incident.
This study led Loftus to belive that a mere suggestion could trigger the
forming of a false memory in some people.
and false memory are directly related. According to Ceci and Bruck
(1993), suggestibility, in the broadest sense, concerns the extent to which
a variety of social and psychological stimuli can manipulate children's
encoding, storage, retrieval and reporting of events (Ceci & Bruck,
1993). Suggestibility, therefore, is how susceptible one is to the
creation of a false memory.
the earliest researhers in the field of child suggestibiliy testing is
W. Stern. Stern developed a type of experiment that is still widely
used today. In his 1910 experiment, the subjects were shown a picture
and asked to study it for a short time. They were then asked a series
of direct questions about the picture, followed by a series of misleading
questions. Stern found that although the younger children were by
far the most suggestible, even the 18-year olds were misled by the suggestive
questions from time to time (Ceci & Bruck, 1993).
researcher in the field of child suggestibility is noted Belgian psychologist
J. Varendonck. Varendonck conducted a study in 1911 asking children
in his class to describe a person who had supposedly approached him earlier
in the schoolyard. While no one had actually approached him, 17 out
of the 22 children had given the person a name and had described the clothes
he was wearing. The questions that Varendonck used in his study were
almost identical to those questions used by court officials in law cases
(Ceci & Bruck, 1993).
The purpose of this research was to investigate suggestibility in children
and adults. The hypothesis predicted that children would be more
suggestible than adults.
participants were 14 first graders, seven 6-year old males and seven 6-year
old females. Adult participants were 25 college freshmen between
the ages of 18 and 19. There were 2 male participants, and 23 female
Disney Cartoon "Mickey and the Seal" was used as well as three short animal
clips from the Johnny Carson Show (Copyright 1960).
False Statements (Manning, 2000) were given to the participants one week
after viewing the videos. The Video Quiz (Manning, 2000), consisting
of both "true and false" and "fill in the blank" questions, was given to
the participans after reading the statements.
The results were found to support the hypothesis. The children in
the experimental condition yielded more suggested answers than adults in
the experimental condition. The results also indicated that the adults
in the control condition performed better than the children in the control
condition, and on some questions the adults performed significantly better.
Given that sexual abuse cases are becoming more frequent in criminal law,
children are being brought into court as witnesses more often than ever.
Most times the child's testimony will implicate the defendant as the guilty
party. Considering the overabundance of recent studies that are dedicated
to showing that children are less reliable than adults, it is astonishing
that the legal system would sentence innocent people based solely on the
testimony of one child.
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