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65. Adults’ perceptions of children’s referentially ambiguous responses.
Psychology, Crime, & Law (Published 2019) (2018)
  • Breanne E. Wylie, Brock University
  • Thomas D. Lyon, University of Southern California Law
  • Alison M O’Connor, Brock University
  • Christina Lapytskaia, York University
  • Angela D. Evans, Brock University
The present study examined adults’ (N = 295) interpretations of child witnesses’ referentially ambiguous “yes” and “no” responses to “Do You Know/Remember (DYK/R) if/whether” questions (e.g., “Do you know if it was blue?”). Participants were presented with transcripts from child sexual abuse cases modified based on question format (DYK/R vs. Direct) and child response type (Yes, No, I don’t know) in a between subjects design. We assessed whether adults recognized that children’s ambiguous responses were unclear, and if not, how they were interpreting children’s responses compared to the control (Direct) conditions. More specifically, we assessed whether adults interpreted children’s responses as answering the explicit (e.g., “No, I don’t remember”) or implicit (e.g., “No, it wasn’t blue”) question. Participants virtually never recognized ambiguous responses as unclear, and their interpretations were influenced by the attorney's question and child’s response type. In sum, these results suggest that DYK/R questions often lead to misinterpretation, resulting in miscommunication.
  • jury,
  • child witness,
  • response interpretation,
  • referential ambiguity,
  • testimony,
  • child sexual abuse
Publication Date
October 30, 2018
Citation Information
Wylie, B.E., Lyon, T.D., O’Connor, A.M., Lapytskaia, C., & Evans, A.D. (2019). Adults’ perceptions of children’s referentially ambiguous responses. Psychology, Crime, & Law, 25, 729-738.