Five Minutes with: a memory researcher
In the second of a new series of interviews with young and mid-career researchers, Eloise Gibson talks to childhood memory researcher Deirdre Brown about testing children’s recall and helping kids remember events accurately.
When Peter Ellis was convicted of molesting children in the 1990s, experts raised questions about the way the children in the court case had been questioned. Ever since then, childhood memory researchers have been studying how well children remember things – and what interviewers can do to draw out the most accurate recall.
Senior psychology lecturer Deirdre Brown runs experiments where she stages events in schools, perhaps a photo shoot where the kids dress as pirates, or a pretend nurse’s visit. Then she tests how children of different ages respond to different styles of questioning, and how well they remember things, including being touched.
The questioning tactics that work best go into the training given to specialist child interviewers who are working for the police in child abuse cases or child protection services. They might also be used in a custody dispute, or when a child has witnessed another crime. Brown (whom Newsroom profiled here) sees her job as helping kids who’ve been abused to give accurate evidence that will stand up against a defence lawyer, while at the same time helping ensure people don’t go to jail when they haven’t committed a crime.