A meta-analysis of differences in children's reports of single and repeated events

Dayna Woiwod, Ryan Fitzgerald, Chelsea Sheahan, Heather Price, Deborah Connolly

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When children report abuse, they often report that it occurred repeatedly. In most jurisdictions, children will be asked to report each instance of abuse with as many details as possible. In the current meta-analysis, we analyzed data from 31 experiments and 3099 children. When accuracy was defined as the number of correct details from the target instance (i.e., narrow definition), repeated-event children were less accurate than single-event children. However, we argue that defining accuracy as the number of reported details that were experienced across instances (i.e., broad definition) is more appropriate for repeated events. When a broad definition was applied, single- and repeated-event children were similarly accurate. Importantly, repeated-event children were less likely than single-event children to report details that had never been experienced and they were no more likely to say “I don’t know.” Overall, repeated-event children were more suggestible than single-event children, but this was moderated by length of delay to recall. In analyses of recognition data, single-event children’s sensitivity score was higher than repeated-event children’s, with no significant difference in response bias as a function of event frequency. We discuss these results in the context of how children’s memory for repeated events is organized.
We also consider the advantage of applying a broad definition of accuracy for victims
of repeated abuse and charging repeated abuse as a continuous offense rather than
discrete acts.
Original languageEnglish
Article number0
Pages (from-to)99-116
Number of pages18
JournalLaw and Human Behavior
Issue number1
Early online date20 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019


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