Behavior and Social Issues

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 1–17 | Cite as

Accuracy of Disclosure and Contextual Control in Child Abuse: Developing Procedures within the Stimulus Equivalence Paradigm

  • Michael KeenanEmail author
  • Attracta McGlinchey
  • Christina Fairhurst
  • Karola Dillenburger


Lack of reliable, nonintrusive disclosure techniques remains an obstacle in child abuse investigations. Stimulus equivalence procedures have been used to detect a range of social experiences. This paper explores the role that contextual cues play in the development of these procedures. Eight 6–9-year-olds were exposed to verifiable social experiences and then trained to respond differentially to two arbitrary stimuli. Phases 1–3 of the experiment began with a role-play in the laboratory. In Phase 1, the role-play was followed by conditional discrimination training; selecting arbitrary stimulus (*) in the presence of pictures depicting unusual activities in the role-play was reinforced, while selecting arbitrary stimulus (!) in the presence of other role-play stimuli was reinforced. In Phase 2, the role-play was followed by a testing procedure. In Phase 3, the two arbitrary stimuli were established as contextual cues. Following the role-play, accurate disclosure was reinforced in the presence of (*), while inaccurate disclosure was reinforced in the presence of (!). In Phase 4, a prearranged role-play took place at each child’s home. Using the arbitrary stimuli as contextual cues, children were tested for accurate and inaccurate verbal accounts. All subjects achieved 100% correct responses in Phases 1–3. Four of the 8 subjects scored 100% in Phase 4, whereas the remaining subjects scored between 67% and 94%. Findings are discussed in the context of child abuse.

Key words

children’s disclosure contextual control stimulus equivalence verbalnonverbal correspondence child abuse 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Benedek. E. P., & Schetky, D. H. (1987). Problems in validating allegations of sexual abuse. Part 1.: Factors affecting perception and recall events. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 26, 916–921. Scholar
  2. Brown, R., Palmer, S., & Rae-Grant, N. (1994). Preliminary findings of the long-term effects of childhood abuse: A study of survivors. In T. Ney (Ed.), True and false allegations of child sex abuse, assessment and case management. New York: Brunner/Mazel.Google Scholar
  3. Ceci, S. J., & Bruck, M. (1993). Suggestibility of the child witness: A historical review and synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 113, 403–439. Scholar
  4. Collins English Dictionary (3rd ed.). (1991). Glasgow: HarperCollins Publishers.Google Scholar
  5. Doris. J. (1991). The suggestibility of children’s recollections. Washington D. C.: The American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Comes-Schwartz, B., Horowitz, J. M., & Cardarelli, A. P. (1990). Child sex abuse: The initial effects. Newbury Park, California: Sage.Google Scholar
  7. Finkelhor, D., & Hotaling, G. T. (1984). Sexual abuse in the National Incidence Study of child abuse and neglect: An appraisal. Child Abuse and Neglect, 8, 23–32. Scholar
  8. Goodwin, J., McCarthy, T., & Di-Vasto, P. (1981). Prior incest in mothers of abused children. Child Abuse and Neglect, 5, 87–95. Scholar
  9. Green, A. (1991). Factors contributing to false allegations of child sex abuse in custody disputes. In M. Robin (Ed.), Assessing child maltreated reports: The problem of false allegations (pp. 177–189). New York: Haworth Press.Google Scholar
  10. Halliday, L. (1986). Sex abuse interviewing techniques for police and other professionals. Campbell River, B. C., Canada: Parmigan Press.Google Scholar
  11. Hynan, D. J. (1999). Interviewing: Forensic psychological interviews with children. The Forensic Examiner, 84, 25–26.Google Scholar
  12. Jones, D. P. H., & McGraw, J. M. (1987). Reliable and fictitious accounts of sex abuse to children. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 2, 27–85. Scholar
  13. Leslie, J., Tierney, K., Robinson, P., Keenan, M., Watt, A., & Barnes, D. (1993). Differences between clinically anxious and non-anxious subjects in a stimulus equivalence training task involving threat words. The Psychological Record, 43, 153–161.Google Scholar
  14. McGlinchey, A., & Keenan, M. (1997). Stimulus equivalence and social categorization in Northern Ireland. Behavior and Social Issues, 7, 113–128. Scholar
  15. McGlinchey, A., Keenan, M., & Dillenburger, K. (2000). Outline for the development of a screening procedure for children who have been sexually abused. Research on Social Work Practice, 10, 722–747.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Miller, T. W., & Veltkamp, L. J. (1989). Assessment of child sex abuse: Clinical use of fables. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 20, 123–133. Scholar
  17. Moxon, P. D., Keenan, M., & Hine, L. (1993). Gender-role stereotyping and stimulus equivalence. The Psychological Record, 43, 381–394.Google Scholar
  18. Ney, T. (1995). True and false allegations of child sex abuse, assessment and case management. New York: Brunner/Mazel Inc.Google Scholar
  19. Paniagua, F. A. (1997). Verbal-nonverbal correspondence training as a case of environmental antecedents. In D. M. Baer & E. M. Pinkston (Eds.), Environment and behavior (pp. 43–48). Boulder, CO: Westview Press, A Division of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Google Scholar
  20. Percy, A., & Mayhew, P. (1997). Estimating sexual victimisation in a national crime survey: A new approach. Studies on Crime and Crime Prevention, 6, 125–150.Google Scholar
  21. Quinn, K. M. (1991). False and unsubstantiated sex abuse allegations: Clinical issues. In M. Robin (Ed.), Assessing child maltreated reports: The problem of false allegations. New York: Haworth Press.Google Scholar
  22. Raskin, D. C., & Yuille, J. C. (1989). Problems in evaluating interviews of children in child sex abuse cases. In J. Ceci, M. P. Toglia, & D. F. Ross (Eds.), Perspectives in children’s testimony (pp. 184–207). New York: Springer-verlang.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Rawls, J. M. (1994). What difference does the interview format make to children’s disclosures? Interviewing young children who had secrets to keep. Paper presented at the meeting of the Association of Behavior Analysis Convention, Atlanta, Georgia.Google Scholar
  24. Sato, M., & Sugiyama, N. (1994). “Lying.” In S. C. Hayes, L. J. Hayes, M. Sato, & K. Ono (Eds.), Behavior analysis of language and cognition (pp. 165–180). Reno, NV: Context Press.Google Scholar
  25. Sharland, E., Seal, H., Croucher, M., Aldgate, J., & Jones, D. (1996). Professional intervention in child sexual abuse. London: HMSO.Google Scholar
  26. Sidman, M. (1994). Equivalence relations and behavior: A research story. Boston, MA: Author’s Cooperative, Inc. PublishersGoogle Scholar
  27. Sidman, M., Kirk, B., & Willson-Morris, M. (1985). Six-member stimulus classes generated by conditional discrimination procedures. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 43, 21–42. Scholar
  28. Sidman, M., Rauzin, R., Lazar, R., Cunningham, S., Tailby, W., & Carrigan, P. (1982). A search for symmetry in the conditional discriminations of rhesus monkeys, baboons, and children. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 37, 23–44. Scholar
  29. Sidman, M., & Tailby, W. (1982). Conditional discrimination vs. matching to sample: An expansion of the testing paradigm. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 37, 5–22. Scholar
  30. Sirnkins, L., & Renier, A. (1996). An analytical review of the empirical literature on children’s play with anatomically detailed dolls. Journal of Child Sex Abuse, 5(1), 21–45. Scholar
  31. The Research Team (1990). Child sexual abuse in Northern Ireland. Antrim, NI: Greystone Books.Google Scholar
  32. Thomas, G. V., & Silk, A. M. J. (1990). An introduction to the psychology of children’s drawings. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf.Google Scholar
  33. Watt, A., Keenan, M., Barnes, D., & Cairns, E. (1991). Social categorization and stimulus equivalence. The Psychological Record, 41, 33–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Yuille, J. C. (1991). Training programmes and procedures for interviewing and assessing sexually abused children. In C. Bagley & R. Thomlinson (Eds.), Child sex abuse: Critical perspectives on prevention, intervention and treatment (pp. 121–134). Toronto, Canada:Wall & Emerson.Google Scholar
  35. Yuille, J. C., Hunter, R., & Harvey, W. (1990). A coordinated approach to interviewing in child sex abuse investigations. Canada’s Mental Health, 38, 14–17.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Keenan
    • 1
    Email author
  • Attracta McGlinchey
    • 1
  • Christina Fairhurst
    • 1
  • Karola Dillenburger
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Psychology and CommunicationUniversity of UlsterColeraineN. Ireland
  2. 2.The Queen’s University of BelfastUnited Kingdom

Personalised recommendations