Adults usually believe young children: the influence of eliciting questions and suggestibility presentations on perceptions of children's disclosures.
Are expert witnesses needed in child sexual abuse cases to educate jurors about children's memory, suggestibility, and reactions to abuse, or do jurors already know what such experts could tell them? To cast light on this question, we surveyed jurors and jury-eligible college students and compared their beliefs with what is known via scientific research regarding children's memory and ability to testify, reactions to interrogation, and reactions to sexual abuse. We also asked participants to infer results of four widely cited studies of children's suggestibility. Participants' beliefs were consistent with findings from research on some issues (e.g., that children can be led to claim that false events occurred) but diverged from the scientific consensus on other issues (e.g., whether children can remember painful events in infancy). Similarly, participants sometimes overestimated and sometimes underestimated the level of suggestibility observed in empirical studies. Individual differences in accuracy were related to participants' gender, education and ethnicity, and there was considerable disagreement among participants on many questions. Implications of findings for the admissibility of expert testimony in child abuse cases are discussed.