Youth Services Law

Children Can Suggest False Memories to Each Other

SecretMy post earlier this week about false memories in adults reminded me of relatively recent mental health research about false memories in children.  Developmental Review in September 2012 published a special issue about child witnesses, and one study upends much of what we thought we knew about how younger children remember events.  The researchers staged various events in a classroom of young children, and then repeated only some of the events in a second classroom.  A third group of children were never in either classroom.

A few weeks later, researchers interviewed all three groups.  They found that many of the children who had never witnessed all of the events nevertheless claimed to have memories of them.  In fact, many of those children provided more detail in their false narratives than the children who had actually witnessed the events.

This study brings into question many common interview and therapy techniques for children who may have been abused.  Group interviews are common, as are group counseling sessions.  This study suggests that such techniques with younger children actually can implant false memories and corrupt the investigation.  Lawyers defending these cases need to carefully review all of the interview and therapy protocols with this study in mind.

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