In cases of child maltreatment, often the child is the only witness, and so interviewers need to elicit as much detailed and accurate information from the child as possible. It can be difficult for children to talk about their experiences of maltreatment, and at times, interviewers may ask the child to draw during the interview, to help them remember and talk about their experience. These drawings would then become part of the evidence presented in court. When these drawings are presented as evidence in courts, jurors need to evaluate their relevance, accuracy, and usefulness for making decisions about the case and the credibility of the child’s testimony.
We wanted to know how jurors evaluate children’s drawings and whether the inclusion of drawings alongside testimony would influence jurors’ perceptions of the child witness.
Here’s what we did.
Across two studies, our research explored the beliefs that jury members hold about children’s drawings and the impact that these beliefs may have on how child witnesses are evaluated.
In the first study, we recruited jury-eligible adults to complete an online survey. Participants answered questions about children’s drawings and assessed the impact these beliefs could have on how they would evaluate a child witness.
In our second study, we again recruited jury-eligible adults, but this time we looked at how they would evaluate a child’s credibility when they were providing with mock testimony transcripts. Our participants read transcripts from a 6- or 10-year-old child, and some participants were also presented with drawing the contained lots of detail or that contained very few. We were interested to see whether the age of the child, as well as the presence and/or quality of a drawing would influence how the child’s credibility was evaluated.
Here’s what we found.
Potential jurors thought the use of drawings during interviews would be beneficial, and provide insight into children’s feelings and thoughts. However, our participants also noted some risks associated with asking children to draw in a legal setting, where drawing could reduce the quantity, quality and accuracy of their testimony.
From our second study, we found that neither the child’s age, nor the presence, absence, or quality of a drawing had any significant influence on the way their testimony’s credibility was assessed.
Collectively, these studies suggested that although jurors hold strong beliefs about the meaning within children’s drawings in general, these beliefs may not always influence how jurors’ perceive an individual child witness. Further research is required to understand the impact of drawings on juror’s evaluation of child testimony under more realistic conditions.
This research was undertaken by Ashlee Curtis, alongside the Applied Developmental Psychology Lab team, as part of her Master’s in Forensic Psychology. If you’re interested to read a more in-depth description and analysis of this study, you can find Ashlee’s Master’s thesis here.
Our thanks for your support.
We would like to thank everyone who was involved in making this research possible, especially the adults who responded to our surveys.
The Applied Developmental Psychology Lab Team
Applied Developmental Psychology Lab
School of Psychology
Victoria University of Wellington