Our Research - What do we do?
Click here to view a representative sample of published research from our lab.
Research in our lab generally focuses on how children learn and remember information. In this information age, children are bombarded with information from more sources than we've ever had before (the internet, television, video games, interactive museums, peers, parents, teachers, etc.).
- What do children do with this information?
- How does it affect their learning?
- How does it affect their memories of their own experiences?
- Do children remember where they learned information?
- Do they distinguish between credible and less credible sources of information (between credible and less credible websites)?
These are the sorts of questions we think are critical to answer if we are to ensure that children become effective consumers of information. The discoveries we make have implications for education, the legal system, as well as children's own well-being and sense of who they are.
Through this research, we work with educators, forensic investigators (i.e., police & social workers), in an effort to better understand the cognitive and social (i.e., interviewing style used) factors that might affect the accuracy of a child's eyewitness testimony.
Our research generally has two main applications:
Applications of Our Work
Children's Memory and the Classroom
Many of the expectations within the Ontario Curriculum involve "source monitoring" (the ability to distinguish where learned something from). Although we know that children get better at this skill with age, it is not well understood how we teach this skill to children, and how it is taught within classrooms. Similarly, we need a better understanding of how children assimilate information from different sources to develop a general understanding of a topic (i.e., incorporating what they learned about horses on an interactive website and what they learned in class about horses).
Children's Memory and Forensic Investigations
Children's memories are crucial in criminal investigations such as sexual abuse when there is little physical or medical evidence and children's testimony about what happened often constitutes the only evidence that police and lawyers can use to prosecute. Highly-publicized sexual abuse cases in the 1980's all over the world cast doubt on the use of children's testimony because many of those convicted have more recently been acquitted. Since then, researchers have studied children's memories of personal experiences and a variety of techniques for eliciting complete and accurate accounts from children. Research by myself and others has shown that children's reports are most accurate when children questioned with "open-ended" prompts that allow them to choose what information to report (e.g., "Tell me what happened" instead of "Did x happen?"). Although some children find answering such general prompts difficult, they can be trained in a rapport-building phase.
One potential source of error in children's testimony is the incorporation of information from other events into their reports of the crime. For example, children may report inaccurate information that was earlier suggested to them, or they may confuse memories of different crimes they have experienced. Such errors that occur are more likely to show up in response to focused or yes/no questions than open-ended questions, and when the events varied slightly each time (e.g., music always played but the music was slightly different each time).