, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 36-43

Children’s Use of a ‘Time Line’ to Indicate When Events Occurred

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Abstract

Children who allege abuse are often asked to provide temporal information such as when the events occurred. Yet, young children often have difficulty recalling temporal information due to their limited knowledge of temporal patterns and linguistic capabilities. As time is an abstract concept (we cannot see it), some investigators have begun to use ‘time-lines’ or pictorial representations of time to aid children. Yet, there is no published research testing whether children are able to use time-lines and whether they can provide adequate temporal information using them. We tested whether children could indicate the time-of-day of events using a pictorial time-line and then compared their responses to their parents’. Seven- to 8-year-olds were most consistent with parental estimates while 4-year-olds were least consistent. Responses from the 5- to 6-year-olds depended on the temporal task. Guessing and using general knowledge to estimate the time-of-day were ruled out, and so children were genuinely drawing on episodic memory when making time-line judgments. Thus, there was a developmental progression in children’s use of physical representations to communicate abstract information. These results are promising for the use of the time-line in forensic settings but much more research is needed.

This research was conducted for the Masters Thesis of Leanne Gosse.
The research was funded by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Discovery Grant (249882) to Kim Roberts. Portions of this research were presented to the 2005 and 2009 biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development. We are grateful to the families in the Waterloo region who participated in this research; and to the Research Assistants Sonja Brubacher, Brain Mainland and Valerie Vorstenbosch.