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Established at Middlebury in the Spring of 1996, the Children’s Memory Project seeks to advance our understanding of how to help children recall accurate information from experienced events.

A main focus of our research has been understanding how an adult’s behavior, particularly questioning style or rapport development, influences the quality of a child’s recall report and adapting the Revised Cognitive Interview for use with children.  Over the years, our lab and others have found repeatedly that the Cognitive Interview mnemonics help children recall a greater amount of information about an experienced event.  We believe that these techniques, which were developed initially for forensic interviewers, hold great potential in other arenas including healthcare and education.

The lab also seeks to develop methods to build strong rapport between the child and adult interviewer and to understand the extent to which rapport helps produce quality information from the child. Our research suggests that rapport development can be used for more than just establishing comfort. To obtain quality information, we believe the child needs to feel that she or he is in control and that the adult expects them to lead the discussion. After all, given the child is the expert in this particular situation—namely, the person with the information or memory of the event—shouldn’t the child be doing the majority of the talking?  But we have learned that both the adult interviewer and the child need an opportunity to practice this shift of control. The interviewer does it over extensive training prior to actual interviews, but the child can do it during rapport with a skilled adult interviewer.  Therefore, we are exploring how to best use the rapport-building phase of the interview to help the child understand the specific goals of the interview and to model the appropriate level of detail and engagement for the substantive portion of the interview. We believe these rapport functions are important because children are not accustomed to being in control of a conversation with an adult and therefore they do not necessarily spontaneously take control of an interview, but rather often wait passively for the adult to ask a list of questions.

Finally, because there are large individual differences in children’s verbal and memory abilities, we have been considering how these differences relate to recall in general and, more specifically, whether they relate to identifying the best interviewing strategy to use with a particular child. If you would like more information about the Children’s Memory Project please feel free to contact Michelle McCauley at McCauley@Middlebury.edu.