We distilled research findings on sources of unreliable testimony from children into four principles that capture how the field of forensic developmental psychology conceptualizes this topic. The studies selected to illustrate these principles address three major questions: (a) how do young children perform in eyewitness studies, (b) why are some children less accurate than others, and (c) what phenomena generate unreliable testimony? Throughout our research, our focus is on factors other than lying that produce inaccurate or seemingly inconsistent autobiographical reports.Collectively, this research has shown that (a) children’s eyewitness accuracy is highly dependent on context, (b) neurological immaturity makes children vulnerable to errors under some circumstances, and (c) some children are more swayed by external influences than others. Finally, the diversity of factors that can influence the reliability of children’s testimony dictates that (d) analyzing children’s testimony as if they were adults (i.e., with adult abilities, sensibilities, and motivations) will lead to frequent misunderstandings. It takes considerable knowledge of development—including information about developmental psycholinguistics, memory development, and the gradual emergence of cognitive control—to work with child witnesses and to analyze cases as there are many sources of unreliable testimony.
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