The effects of state anxiety on the suggestibility and accuracy of child eyewitnesses



The negative effect of misleading information on memory is a well-established fact in eyewitness testimony. However, individual differences have rarely been studied in this context, particularly in children. This paper is one of the first to explore whether objectively measured state anxiety levels have a moderating influence on suggestibility. A group of 83 9–10-year-old schoolchildren took part in the experiment. They were tested on their recall of details surrounding a minor car accident shown on video. No effects of state anxiety on accuracy were found. Clear misleading information effects were found, however (p < 0.001). Furthermore, both analysis of covariance and Pearson's correlation coefficients showed that higher anxiety levels were associated with a reduction in the number of misled responses given by the misinformed participants relative to low-anxious participants (p < 0.05). The theoretical relevance of these findings are discussed in the light of processing efficiency theory and the ‘affect as information’ hypothesis. The practical implications for children as witnesses are also considered. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.