Are sad children more believable? A systematic review of the relationship between emotional demeanour of child victims and juror credibility judgements

Kathryn Rowsell, Melissa Colloff

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Abstract

Adult female sexual assault victims who appear emotional are rated as more credible by jurors, which has been termed the emotional victim effect. Two explanations of this effect have been proposed: The expectancy violation theory and the compassionate-affective account. To date, the emotional victim effect in child victims, or the application of these theories to child victims, has not been reviewed. We conducted a systematic review to examine how child victims’ emotional presentation influences mock juror credibility judgements. We searched five databases acquiring 1,946 articles. A further two articles were included after initial screening. Following quality assessment, eight studies were identified as suitable for inclusion in the current review, with a total of 2,148 participants. These studies all showed that ‘sad’ emotional presentation of a child victim increased subsequent mock juror credibility ratings. Type of emotion, proportionality of the emotional response, level of empathy, gender of the participants, and age of the victims, also influenced credibility judgements made by jurors. The review illustrates evidence of the emotional victim effect within the child victim population, discusses possible explanations of the effect, moderating factors, and highlights the important implications of these findings at multiple stages of the Criminal Justice System.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychology, Crime and Law
Early online date30 Sep 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Sep 2021

Keywords

  • Child victims
  • credibility
  • emotional victim effect
  • expectancy violation theory
  • compassionate-affective response

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