Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology

, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 36-43

First online:

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

  • Leanne L. GosseAffiliated withUniversity of Waterloo
  • , Kim P. RobertsAffiliated withWilfrid Laurier UniversityDepartment of Psychology, Wilfrid Laurier University Email author 

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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.


Child witnesses Investigative interviewing Forensic investigations Child abuse Temporal recall