Effects of past abuse experiences on children's eyewitness memory

Law Hum Behav. 2001 Jun;25(3):269-98. doi: 10.1023/a:1010797911805.


Relations between child maltreatment and children's eyewitness memory were examined. A matched sample of abused and nonabused 3- to 10-year-old children (n = 70) participated in a play session with an unfamiliar adult and were interviewed about the interaction 2 weeks later. Consistent with results from previous research, older compared to younger children's reports were more complete and accurate. Abused and nonabused children performed similarly with several exceptions: Nonabused children were more accurate in answering specific questions, made fewer errors in identifying the unfamiliar adult in a photo identification task, and (at least for younger boys) freely recalled more information. Most effects remained when group differences in IQ and behavioral symptomology were statistically controlled. Importantly, abused and nonabused children did not differ in their accuracy or suggestibility in response to questions that were relevant to abusive actions. Among abused children, however, those who suffered more severe sexual abuse made more omission errors to specific abuse-relevant questions. Contributions to psychological theory and legal implications for understanding children's eyewitness memory and testimony are discussed.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Child Abuse / psychology
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall*
  • Sex Factors
  • Suggestion*