Children's Eyewitness Identification as Implicit Moral Decision-Making


  • This paper is based, in part, on pre-dissertation research (Study 2) and dissertation research (Study 3) by the first author and supervised by the second author. The first and second authors co-wrote the paper, with assistance from the third author. T. Spring is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Queens College of CUNY; H.D. Saltzstein is Professor of Developmental and Social Psychology at the CUNY Graduate School; and R. Peach is a Research Associate at Lehman College of CUNY.

Correspondence to: Toni Spring, Department of Elementary and Early Childhood Education, Queens College, CUNY, Flushing, USA.



Why are young children particularly prone to make false positive errors or false alarms when identifying a wrongdoer? In three studies, the problem was approached using a signal detection analysis, focusing on the moral costs of false alarms, as understood at different points in development. The findings are as follows: (i) decisional criteria became more conservative, indicating fewer false alarms, with age in three studies; (ii) children's beliefs about the seriousness of false alarms and misses changed from (a) a non-moral concern to (b) a moral concern for misses to (c) a moral concern for false alarms. (iii) These findings were replicated in two demographically different communities. More critically, (iv) framing of the filmed event, for example, as a moral transgression (stealing) or a pro-social (helping) act (Study 1) and as intentional with little damage or unintentional with major damage (Study 3), interacts with age in influencing decisional criteria. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.