A "weapon focus" effect in children

  • Davies G
  • Smith S
  • Blincoe C
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Abstract

Experiments suggest that the presence of a weapon impairs memory for the appearance of the perpetrator (‘‘weapon focus’’), although whether this reflects threat or novelty value remains unresolved. To date, no studies have explored whether a parallel effect occurs with children. In a paradigm based on ‘‘Kim’s game’’, children aged 7, 8 and 9 years memorized an array of common objects. For one group, the array contained a syringe filled with red liquid (threat item) while for others this was replaced by a fountain pen (control) or mobile phone (novelty item). Children were tested immediately for recall of the array and unexpectedly, 3 hours later, for the appearance of the experimenter. Consistent with a threat interpretation, children of all ages who saw the array containing the syringe showed significantly decreased recall relative to those who saw the pen or phone (pB0.001) and exhibited poorer memory for the appearance of the experimenter (pB0.001). In addition, children who prioritized the syringe in their recall provided less accurate appearance information, an effect not found for the phone or pen. It is concluded that weapon focus occurs in children and that the current findings are consistent with a threat interpretation.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Appearance information
  • Child witnesses
  • Free recall
  • Memory development
  • Weapon focus

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