Allegations of wrongdoing: the effects of reinforcement on children's mundane and fantastic claims

J Appl Psychol. 2000 Feb;85(1):38-49. doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.85.1.38.


S. Garven, J. M. Wood, R. S. Malpass, and J. S. Shaw (1998) found that the interviewing techniques used in the McMartin Preschool case can induce preschool children to make false allegations of wrong doing against a classroom visitor. In this study, 2 specific components of the McMartin interviews, reinforcement and cowitness information, were examined more closely in interviews of 120 children, ages 5 to 7 years. Children who received reinforcement made 35% false allegations against a classroom visitor, compared with 12% made by controls. When questioned about "fantastic" events (e.g., being taken from school in a helicopter), children receiving reinforcement made 52% false allegations, compared with 5% made by controls. In a second interview, children repeated the allegations even when reinforcement had been discontinued. The findings indicate that reinforcement can swiftly induce children to make persistent false allegations of wrong doing.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Fantasy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lie Detection
  • Male
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Repression, Psychology*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Truth Disclosure*