Interviewing preschoolers: comparisons of yes/no and wh- questions

Law Hum Behav. 1999 Oct;23(5):539-55. doi: 10.1023/a:1022396112719.


This study investigated the influence of question format on preschool-aged children's errors, their response accuracy, and their tendency to say "I don't know" when given non-misleading questions in a neutral, unbiased context. Children (3 to 5 years old) participated in a craft-making session that included a staged "accident" with two experimenters differing in gender and appearance; the environment also had several distinctive features. One week later children were interviewed about actions, participants, and environment; questions were yes/no format with the veridical response "yes" ("yes" questions), yes/no format with the veridical response "no" ("no" questions), and specific wh- format questions. Question format substantially influenced children's responses: they were most likely to make errors if asked "no" questions, and were unlikely to answer either yes/no question with "I don't know." In contrast, children spontaneously and frequently said "I don't know" to wh- questions about content they did not recall (environment), but not about content that was well recalled (actions). Implications of question format for reliability of eyewitness testimony by preschoolers are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Criminal Law*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Mental Recall*