McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
discourse analysis, child memory, child experience, child testimony, eyewitness testimony, suggestibility, phenomenology, forensic evaluation, forensic interview
This dissertation draws on a hermeneutically-informed modification of Potter and Wetherell’s (1987) discourse analysis methodology to explore how child memory and experience are conceptualized in two widely-used forensic psychology training manuals. Current research about child testimony tends to focus on how well children can factually recount their experiences, or on optimizing interviewer performance so as to obtain accurate accounts and minimize the risk of distorting children’s memories. Results of this discourse analysis include: 1) frequent advisement of evaluator caution, objectivity, and thoroughness, since evaluators are understood as responsible for preserving the accuracy of children’s memories during the evaluation process; and 2) use of the suggestibility model of memory, which assumes memory is a predominantly cognitive process in which people—especially children—are vulnerable to external influences that will distort their accounts and thereby render them invalid. These findings were then put into dialogue with a phenomenological conceptualization of child memory and experience. Though both approaches present child memory/experience as fluid and easily influenced by other people, phenomenology does not view these qualities as inherently problematic. Rather, this orientation assumes that all experience is interrelated as a given, and that factual truth is similarly important to experiential truth. Socio-historical context is also discussed, namely how American and European legal practices have shifted over time to reflect broader societal views of children as either vulnerable or autonomous. Finally, practical implications of the handbook discourse are elaborated, including ways a phenomenological perspective could improve how children are supported in forensic settings. Integrating non-verbal communication, exploring experiential truth as well as fact truth, and drawing on research that does not assume a suggestibility model of memory are three principal suggestions for evaluators.
Samson, E. (2019). Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: A Discourse Analysis of Forensic and Psychological Truth in Child Narratives (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/1812