Title

Effects of Expert Statement Validity Assessment Testimony on Lay Evaluations of Children's Statements

Date of Award

8-1-1997

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Abstract

Research on memory and suggestibility in children continues to demonstrate circumstances under which children may not give accurate accounts of important events. In investigating and treating child sexual abuse, it is important to determine what has happened. Statement Validity Assessment is a witness credibility assessment technique developed by Udo Undeutsch which focuses on the reality of individual statements. It involves a special open-ended investigative interview, Criteria-Based Content Analysis, which searches for the presence of characteristics which indicate that a statement is based on an experienced event, and a Validity Checklist which examines alternate hypotheses. This technique has been widely used in Germany since the 1950s, and since the 1980s has been studied in North America. Many contemporary SVA studies have significant limitations in generalizability to sexual abuse assessment. These methodological problems include using adult statements, using child statements of weak ecological validity, and inadequately trained expert evaluators. In general, lay subjects are only 55%-65% accurate in evaluating the truthfulness of children's statements. This suggests that a role for SVA in the North American legal system might be to improve juror performance with exposure to educational testimony about the general characteristics of a true statement. To assess the potential benefits of such education, 333 undergraduates were asked to e valuate statements about an emotionally involving mock crime children had witnessed (ages six to ten). Statements were evaluated in videotaped and written form. Prior to evaluation, one-third of subjects received exposure to a videotape of a courtroom-style expert testimony about SVA and CBCA. One-third of subjects received exposure to a counter-CBCA testimony designed to test the effectiveness of the experimental manipulation, fhe remaining subjects received no testimony exposure. Results indicated that exposure to SVA testimony does not help lay evaluators, who averaged 65% correct. Subjects were less accurate with videotapes than transcripts. These results contrast with expert application of CBCA, which correctly classified 89% of statements. SVA offers powerful tools for the investigation and assessment of sexual abuse. Expert application of CBCA is strongly confirming of truthful statements, which suggests the appropriateness of admitting testimony on the validity of a specific statement.

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