What is it about?

In this article, we provide a scientific foundation to argue that understanding the mnemonic impact of informal conversations with parents, particularly mothers, is the single most important challenge facing contemporary investigations of child sexual abuse. Studies in our labs and others demonstrate that when parents act on suspicion, misunderstanding, or misinformation, they are prone to incorporate false information into exchanges with their children that can contaminate children’s later independent reports and at times lead to elaborate and compelling accounts of events that never happened.

Featured Image

Why is it important?

In the context of child sexual abuse, allegations often arise during informal conversations between children and their parents, before official interviews. Given the potency of parents to taint children’s reports of their experiences, understanding the conditions under which parents can shape what children come to say is paramount to arriving at accurate and just conclusions in legal cases involving young witnesses. As such, we close the article with a series of recommendations for forensic professionals to examine the possible contamination of children’s formal statements from earlier and continuing conversations with their parents.


It was wonderful to be invited to write a review piece with an academic whose research I admire and cite often and work together to review the rich literature on parent-child conversations about the past to arrive at evidence-based recommendations for legal professionals. Writing this piece together also spurred a myriad of new research ideas on which we plan to collaborate with the goal of continuing to work towards the development of guidelines for minimizing parental contamination in children’s legal testimony.

Gabrielle Principe
College of Charleston

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: How parents can shape what children remember: Implications for the testimony of young witnesses., Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, September 2022, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/mac0000059.
You can read the full text:




The following have contributed to this page