Individual differences in the effect of drawing on children's memory
Willcock, Emma Louise
For more than a century, drawing has enjoyed a prominent position in clinical interviews with children. In surveys conducted in the United States, for example, drawing consistently ranks as one of the top 10 instruments used by clinicians who work with children. Despite its popularity, many of the claims made about the use of drawing during clinical interviews have never been empirically assessed. The purpose of the present thesis was to examine the effects of two drawing techniques commonly used to elicit complete and accurate accounts of children's past experiences. Prior research has shown that when children are interviewed about their past experiences, those given the opportunity to draw report more verbal information than children merely asked to tell. This finding has been obtained irrespective of the nature of the target event (e.g., educational, emotional, clinical), and over delays that range from 1 day to 1 year. Although the effect of drawing on the amount of information that children report has been replicated in a number of different laboratories, the mechanism responsible for this effect is not known. Furthermore, despite these group effects, some children clearly profit more from the opportunity to draw than others. In a series of two experiments, I examined whether differences in the way that interviewers interacted with children during drawing interviews could provide an explanation for why drawing elicits more complete reports than telling alone. In addition, I examined whether differences in intelligence, memory, language development, drawing skill, theory of mind, temperament, and socioeconomic status could be used to explain individual differences in children's performance when they were given the opportunity to draw during a memory interview. Consistent with prior research, the results showed that drawing facilitated 5- to 6- year-old children's verbal reports of educational and emotional events without compromising accuracy. Interestingly, examination of the interviewers' behaviour revealed that the drawing interview increased children's verbal reports because it encouraged interviewers to take more conversational turns. That is, interviewers asked more questions and made more minimal responses when interviewing children who were drawing and as a consequence, the children reported more information. With respect to individual differences in children's performance during drawing interviews, the results showed that while drawing ameliorated the impact of having a poor memory on children's verbal reports, drawing was of little benefit to children who were highly distractible. In two additional experiments, I examined children's ability to use human figure drawings or body maps to indicate where they had been touched during the course of a staged event. I also examined which child characteristics might be used to predict individual differences in children's ability to use the body maps effectively. Irrespective of children's socioeconomic background, the delay between the event and the interview, and individual child characteristics, 80% of children made at least one false allegation of touch when using the body maps. Moreover, approximately 10% of children erroneously indicated that they had been touched on the genitals, and 25% of children erroneously indicated that they had received a touch to the breast. On the basis of these data, I conclude that children fail to understand the representational nature of body maps. Given this, use of body maps in clinical or legal contexts should be discouraged. Taken together, these findings indicate that although children can remember considerable amounts of information about their experiences, the efficacy of drawing as a medium for eliciting this information varies depending on the way that drawing is employed. While drawing was highly effective when used as a medium for eliciting verbal information from children, providing children with a pre-drawn body map failed to facilitate children's accounts of bodily touch. Overall, these data have important implications for how children are interviewed in clinical and legal settings.
Advisor: Hayne, Harlene
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Psychology
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis