Testing Reliability of Information: Stereotype Induction and Source Monitoring
A common occurrence in domestic (divorce or paternity) litigation involving children, from parenting time disputes to custody modification, is for a court to order a custody evaluation (A party may also be ordered to participate in Domestic Relations Counseling Bureau evaluation for this purpose if available. Ind.Code § 31-12-1-1. In addition, a party may seek a custody evaluation as a part of discovery under Ind. Trial Rule 35). Through the custody evaluation process, families will be evaluated, allowing this third party professional to make a report and recommendation regarding custody.
One major component of a custody evaluation and key source of information is the interviews with the parties, including children.
During interviews, parents offer information about themselves, their pasts, and their relationship with their children. Additionally, the children are interviewed to find out more about them and their relationships with each parent. However, in some cases, young children may be difficult to interview and gather the truth from, which is largely dependent upon their memories.
There are numerous sources of psychological theory about children, but stereotype induction and source monitoring will be the focus of this blog post. As domestic advocates at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C., we are of the belief that the better educated you are about the process, the better job you can do with transmitting critical facts to an evaluator, cognizant of areas of common factual distortion.
Stereotype induction is a psychological phenomenon in which children filter their perception through stereotypes of which they may not have any actual knowledge. An example of this is if a group of children are told ahead of time that Mr. A is a bad person who is mean and kicks children. The tester then has Mr. A come into the room of children where he behaves normally. Some time later, when asked about Mr. A, the children will often say that he came into the room and kicked children.
Based on the negative perception that was introduced to the children, their reality is filtered through that negativity. This can be seen particularly when one parent has been speaking negatively of the other. The child may not have any actual memories of the other parent being mean or hurting them, but through the filter set by the negative parent, the child may have memories they believe are true of the parent being mean or hurting them.
Another psychological phenomenon that is seen during interviews with children in custody evaluations is called source monitoring. The key psychological concept is the idea that children under the age of 7 cannot recall from what source they received information. Further, children 7-10 years of age are still perfecting the ability to recall a source.
For example, if a tester asks a child if they have ever seen anything impossible or incredulous such as an alligator doing a handstand on a beach, they will say they have not. However, when asked about it later, the children might not only say that they have seen this, but also have elaborate details.
In the children’s minds, without knowing the source of the information, this is now a memory that is part of their reality based on the introduction of the idea by the tester. These children are not lying, the source just isn’t a true and correct source. This is another way children can form false memories, where during an interview they are telling the truth as it is remembered by them, however, it is not reality.
The implications of this are legally complex, and where potentially factoring into a child’s perception, a custody evaluation is often needed to sort through this; there is serious conflict between the parents. Be aware that speaking negatively of the other parent or telling stories about the other parent that are untrue or exaggerated may become reality and a painful memory for your child.
Ultimately, the parent that presents these negative ideas to a child, may lose the custody that they are trying to maintain. The manifestations of the negative connotations have a significant impact upon the child and their relationship with the other parent. One of the factors that courts routinely review when determining custody in such a situation is the interference by custodial parent with the non-custodial parent’s relationship with a child.
For these reasons and to maintain a healthy relationship with all parties, children should never be involved in discussions about custody and any disputes between adults and adult matters. Speaking poorly of the other parent or calling names can be detrimental to all parties involved, but especially vulnerable children with developing minds.
We hope you find this information useful in your education about family law, custody, custody evaluations and parenting time issues. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. attorneys practice throughout the State of Indiana. This blog post was written by Bryan L. Ciyou, Esq.