Promoting Children’s Truth-telling in Legal Settings
Child witnesses in legal disputes used to be required to show they knew the difference between truth and lies. As a result, young children who usually had difficulty explaining concepts such as “truth” were often unable to testify. But Dr. Victoria Talwar, Canada Research Chair in Developmental Psychology and Law, has found that while young children may not be able to define such concepts, they are just as likely as adults to tell the truth. Based on Talwar’s research, children are no longer asked if they know the difference between truth and lies as part of a competency inquiry. Talwar is now investigating the influence of external variables (such as possible coaching and types of questions) on the ability of children to give truthful and accurate reports about events. Children’s persistent lying is considered an early indicator of later antisocial behaviour problems. Talwar’s research is providing valuable insights into how lying behaviour emerges, the factors that maintain this behaviour and how lying for some children becomes a chronic symptom related to other antisocial behaviour. Talwar’s research will help develop successful methods of promoting children’s truth-telling without increasing false allegations. It will also have significant implications for legal and forensic professionals who must determine the veracity of evidence provided by children. And it will form the basis for new legal procedures and protocols for interviewing children and assessing their trustworthiness.