Effectiveness of Descriptions in Missing Children Appeals: Exploration of Length, Type of Content and Confidence on Recall Accuracy

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6 Citations (Scopus)


When a child goes missing, it is commonplace to release details of the child in the hope that a member of the public can help to locate him or her. Despite their importance and daily usage, there remains a significant gap in understanding just how effective these appeals are in helping to locate missing children. This exploratory study utilized a two-stage approach and sought (1) to explore whether the length of the description and the type of content enclosed in the description influenced subsequent recall abilities, (2) to determine whether the length of time spent reading the mock appeal influences the subsequent recall ability, (3) to establish whether confidence in own recall ability is associated with overall recall ability, and (4) to determine whether descriptive length and content influences the subsequent recall ability following a 3-day break. Two hundred and twenty-three participants observed one of four mock missing children descriptions followed by a short word memory distraction task and a free-recall task. The second stage comprised of another free-recall task presented after a short 3-day delay. Two-way factorial ANOVAs found observing shorter descriptions have significantly greater recall accuracy than observing longer descriptions both immediately after observing the appeal and after a 3-day delay. Results also found that newsworthy descriptive content had a greater recall accuracy than non-newsworthy descriptive content after a 3-day delay. Additional analyses found that confidence in own accuracy and time spent observing the appeals was also significantly associated with recall accuracy. The findings demonstrate the necessity for improving missing children appeals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)336-347
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Police and Criminal Psychology
Issue number3
Early online date28 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2020


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