140824GolemanAug. 24, 2014

“The following dialogue is from Daniel Goleman’s article ‘Studies Reflect Suggestibility of Very Young as Witnesses,’ in the New York Times (June 11, 1993). It is an excerpt from 11 interviews of a four-year-old boy, who each week was told falsely: ‘You went to the hospital because your finger got caught in a mousetrap. Did this ever happen to you?’

“First Interview: ‘No. I’ve never been to the hospital.’

“Second Interview: ‘Yes. I cried.’

“Third Interview: ‘Yes. My mom went to the hospital with me.’

“Fourth Interview: ‘Yes. I remember. It felt like a cut.’

“Fifth Interview: ‘Yes.’ (Pointing to index finger….)

“Eleventh Interview: ‘Uh huh. My daddy, mommy, and my brother (took me to the hospital) in our van…. The hospital gave me . . . a little bandage, and it was right here’ (pointing to index finger).

“The interviewer then asked: ‘How did it happen?’

“ ‘I was looking and then I didn’t see what I was doing and it (finger) got in there somehow…. The mousetrap was in our house because there’s a mouse in our house…. The mousetrap is down in the basement next to the firewood…. I was playing a game called “Operation” and then I went downstairs and said to Dad, “I want to eat lunch” and then it got stuck in the mousetrap…. My daddy was down in the basement collecting firewood…. (My brother) pushed me into the mousetrap…. It happened yesterday. The mouse was in my house yesterday. I caught my finger in it yesterday. I went to the hospital yesterday.’ “

– From “Case Study of Implanted Memory” by Martin Gardner in Skeptical Inquirer (Fall 1994)

Does this experiment’s series of 11 interviews strike you as extreme? For at least one of the Little Rascals children, Judith Abbott, lead therapist for the prosecution, conducted biweekly sessions for six months!