Examining interview ground rules in formal interviews with children
Rodriguez Steen, Lillian A.
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Within the context of formal interviews with children, accuracy and clarity are paramount. Thus, protocols for interviewing children establish ground rules to encourage children to, for example, say “I don’t know,” “I don’t understand,” or correct interviewer mistakes as necessary. Interview ground rules are intended to facilitate children’s success during formal questioning. Despite widespread recommendation and use of such instructions, relatively little is known regarding children’s understanding and implementation of these rules; and adults’ perceptions of children’s application of the ground rules have yet to be investigated. The current thesis fills crucial gaps in the literature regarding the ground rules for interviews with children, particularly the “I don’t understand” rule. Three studies are presented. Study 1 tested a novel intervention aimed at increasing children’s appropriate use of the “I don’t understand” rule. Results indicate that child age and “I don’t understand” rule reminders impacted children’s clarification requests to tricky questions in that older children and children who received such reminders requested clarification more frequently than younger children and children who did not receive reminders. Study 2 investigated individual differences (age, ADHD diagnosis, and executive functioning) in how children understand the ground rules and whether, how, and under what circumstances children apply the ground rules. Results demonstrate that children did not differ based on individual differences in ADHD diagnosis or executive functioning with respect to ground rule understanding or application but older children did exhibit a significantly higher degree of ground rule understanding than younger children. Study 3 examined adult perceptions of children’s use of the “I don’t understand” rule compared to the “I don’t know” rule, including how many times they applied either rule in an investigative interview about sexual abuse. Results indicate that the child who applied either ground rule only once during their interview was viewed more positively than the child who applied either ground rule multiple times, though the type of rule applied by the child had little impact on mock jurors’ perceptions. Together, the proposed studies yield valuable insights into the widely used but under-researched ground rules for conducting interviews with children.