A Tale of Two Representations: The Misinformation Effect and Children's Developing Theory of Mind

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Abstract

The present research investigates representational ability as a cognitive factor underlying the suggestibility of children's eyewitness memory. The misinformation effect is used as an index of children's suggestibility, and performance on the false belief task is used as an assessment of children's representational abilities (N = 117). Analyses that considered the effect of representational ability and general memory ability on children's susceptibility to misleading information showed that differences in representational ability and general memory ability predicted participants' susceptibility to misleading information. These results demonstrate that the eyewitness memory of children who lack either multirepresentational abilities, sufficient general memory abilities, or both (i.e., most 3- and 4-year-olds) is less accurate than the eyewitness memory of children with both multirepresentational abilities and sufficient memory abilities (i.e., most 6-year-olds and adults). Thus, it appears that the earliest age at which children's eyewitness memory can be considered to be similar to that of adults is 6 years of age, when children's mental representational abilities are similar to those of adults. These results suggest that one factor underlying children's vulnerability to misleading information is the number of representations of an event that they can simultaneously hold and compare.

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