Repetition of contaminating question types when children and youths with intellectual disabilities are interviewed


Ann-Christian Cederborg, Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, Linköping University, 581 83 Linköping, Sweden (e-mail:


Background  The present study examined the effects of repeating questions in interviews investigating the possible sexual abuse of children and youths who had a variety of intellectual disabilities. We predicted that the repetition of option-posing and suggestive questions would lead the suspected victims to change their responses, making it difficult to understand what actually happened. Inconsistency can be a key factor when assessing the reliability of witnesses.

Materials  Case files and transcripts of investigative interviews with 33 children and youths who had a variety of intellectual disabilities were obtained from prosecutors in Sweden. The interviews involved 25 females and 9 males whose chronological ages were between 5.4 and 23.7 years when interviewed (M = 13.2 years).

Results  Six per cent of the questions were repeated at least once. The repetition of focused questions raised doubts about the reports because the interviewees changed their answers 40% of the time.

Conclusions  Regardless of the witnesses' abilities, it is important to obtain reports that are as accurate and complete as possible in investigative interviews. Because this was a field study, we did not know which responses were accurate, but repetitions of potentially contaminating questions frequently led the interviewees to contradict their earlier answers. This means that the interviewers' behaviour diminished the usefulness of the witnesses' testimony.