Undergraduate Senior Thesis: Interviewing Preschoolers: Using Observational Learning to Improve Response Accuracy.

My undergraduate thesis looked a one intersection of child development and memory. I was particularly fascinated by how we develop the ability to remember and then accurately recount these memories. The research that inspired me looked at when we first become reliable reporters of our own past. The importance of knowing this becomes clear when we think of children who have experienced abuse or trauma or have been witness to it. When can they testify on their own behalf?

Past research had shown that 3- to 4-year-olds demonstrate a negative response bias—meaning they tend to say “no” in response to any question. I was interested in exploring whether there were certain circumstances where they might not show this bias and be more reliable in reporting their past. Therefore, I designed a study to investigate whether having an active role in creating the memory would make the 3- to 4-year-olds better at accurately answering questions about their past and resisting questions that suggest things that didn’t occur by saying “I don’t know”.

I used a computerized story making program that allowed the participating children to choose the character of their story, what the character wore, where it went, and how the story ended. After making the story on the computer, the children were asked questions about their stories. Some questions were non-suggestible and others suggested events that did not occur in their stories.

What I saw was that actively making the story did not keep the children from falling in to the traps of suggestive questions and admitting things happened when they didn’t. I will say that there was a small trend indicating older 4 year-olds were better at resisiting than younger 4 year-olds, meaning they said “I don’t know” more to the suggestive questions, highlighting the need to study the cognitive development of 4 year-olds more.


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