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An examination of the types of leading questions used by investigative interviewers of children

Carolyn H. Hughes‐Scholes (School of Psychology, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia)
Martine B. Powell (School of Psychology, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 30 May 2008




The purpose of this paper is to examine the nature of leading questions used by a representative sample of investigative interviewers of children. In particular, it examined whether these interviewers use the type of questions that are known to elicit reports of false activities or events among child samples.


A total of 82 police officers who were authorized to conduct interviews with alleged child abuse victims conducted individual mock interviews with children aged 5‐7 years. The focus of the interviews was an event that was staged in the children's school a week earlier. Prior to the interview, each officer was provided with accurate and inaccurate information about the event, including details about an activity that did not occur. The officers' task was to elicit as detailed and accurate account of the event as possible using the techniques they would “normally” use in the field.


Although the officers refrained from using coercive interview techniques, two problematic types of questions were relatively common. These include: questions that presumed that an activity/detail occurred that had not been previously mentioned by the child; and questions that included highly specific details about an activity. Both of these techniques had featured in prior laboratory research on children's false event narratives.

Research limitations/implications

These results support the need for better training techniques for assisting officers to avoid the use of leading questions.


While it is well established that investigative interviewers do sometimes use leading questions when interviewing children, this is the first study to specify the incidence of various types of leading questions.



Hughes‐Scholes, C.H. and Powell, M.B. (2008), "An examination of the types of leading questions used by investigative interviewers of children", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 31 No. 2, pp. 210-225.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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