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Children’s truthful and deceptive testimonies: Effects of increasing the cognitive load

Conference paper
Authors Emma Roos Af Hjelmsäter
Sara Landström
Pär-Anders Granhag
Published in The 6th meeting of the NNPL, Tallinn (Estonia) October 9-10, 2009.
Publication year 2009
Published at Department of Psychology
Language en
Keywords Cognitive load, lie detection, children’s truthful and deceptive accounts
Subject categories Psychology, Applied Psychology


The ‘imposing cognitive load’ approach to deception detection, developed by Aldert Vrij and colleagues (2006), suggests that lying is a more cognitively demanding task than telling the truth. It also proposes that by introducing cognitively demanding interventions during an interview the cognitive load will be enlarged and the differences between liars and truth-tellers will be even more pronounced. This experimental study explores this cognitive approach by investigating how children’s ability to provide truthful and deceptive testimonies is affected by an increased cognitive load. Forty-two children (12-13 year olds) were interviewed about two events; one self-experienced (truthful) and one made-up (deceptive) event. Half were interviewed about the events in a regular interview setting. The other half played a game designed to increase cognitive load while being interviewed. Preliminary results, in the ongoing data collection, show that the children in the cognitive load condition performed better–they gave a fuller account in the free recall phase and answered more questions–than did the children in the regular condition. Moreover, the children performed better when interviewed about the second event than when interviewed about the first event. However, our preliminary analyses do not show any difference between the children’s deceptive and truthful accounts. Thus, the study does not show support for the ‘imposing cognitive load’ approach. The theoretical implications and practical applications will be discussed.

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