Gestures Lead Children to Wrong Answers

May 5, 2010 Updated: May 5, 2010

Children in a forensic interview are influenced by adults' gestures to provide wrong information, wrote Sara C. Broaders and Susan Goldin-Meadow in a research report from the University of Chicago. Children who lack verbal fluency are particularly likely to follow adult’s non-verbal cues. This can damage the integrity of transcripts.

“Ours is the first study to show that misleading gestures can have long-term effects on the veracity of children’s reports,” said Goldin-Meadow and Broaders.

Since transcripts do not document gestures, an investigator would have no way of knowing if an interviewer used body language, which misled a child. The same is true when transcripts do not record children’s gestures. An example of the findings noted that when interviewers gestured toward their heads, children would report having seen a classroom visitor wearing a hat, even though the visitor had no hat.

The scholars said interviews should be videotaped and show both the witness and the interviewer.

“The goal of investigative interviews is to obtain a complete and accurate account of events. If gesture is not recognized as having both a positive and a negative influence on the process, this goal may be compromised,” the researchers concluded.