The Whole Truth From Five-Year-Olds

it useful."

By turning the child's attention to a story character, the test sidesteps two mistakes common among even the best prosecutors.

In an attempt to get their young victims to demonstrate an understanding of the truth and lies, prosecutors tend to ask children to define words or explain the difference between them. In the pressure of a courtroom setting, even well-rehearsed children stumble.

Then to demonstrate that children understand the importance of telling the truth, prosecutors tend ask the children to imagine the consequences if they or their attorney lied. Invariably, children freeze up at the prospect of having to identify themselves or an adult - even hypothetically - as a liar.

"If you tell a lie," the lawyer asked in the 1989 case, "will you get into trouble?"

"But I'm not going to lie," the little girl protested.

Lyon and Saywitz have made the test available free of charge to more than 100 lawyers at scholarly and professional meetings, including two recent presentations before the Dependency Division of the Los Angeles County Juvenile Court. A variation of the test also appears in the latest edition of "Evidence in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases," the leading manual in the field.

Eventual plans include posting the test and research illustrating its effectiveness on a Website, so that attorneys in even the most remote locations can easily download it.

"This is not about making royalties for developing a diagnostic instrument," says Lyon, an associate professor at USC's Law School. "We want to make this test as widely available as possible."

Now a new study provides Lyon and Saywitz with additional ammunition in their quest to persuade attorneys to adopt theirs or some other simple competency test.

In a study in the current issue of Applied Developmental Science, Lyon and Saywitz compare the performance of 192 children awaiting hearings in Los Angeles County's dependency court on simple and more complicated c

Contact: Meg Sullivan
University of Southern California

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