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J Exp Psychol Appl. 2008 Sep;14(3):255-65. doi: 10.1037/1076-898X.14.3.255.

"Don't know" responding to answerable and unanswerable questions during misleading and hypnotic interviews.

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Department of Psychology, University of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario, Canada.


"Don't know" (DK) responses to interview questions are conceptually heterogeneous, and may represent uncertainty or clear statements about the contents of memory. A study examined the subjective intent of DK responses in relation to the objective status of information queried, in the context of memory distorting procedures. Participants viewed a video and responded to answerable and unanswerable questions phrased in misleading or nonmisleading formats, while hypnotized or not hypnotized. Subjective meanings of DK responses were queried, and a recognition measure assessed the contents of memory. Lower DK and accuracy rates were consistently associated with unanswerable and misleading questions. One-third of DK responses were statements that the information had no not presented. When these were recoded, accuracy estimates for answerable questions decreased and more so for hypnotized participants. These results demonstrate that DK responses convey different types of information, thus accuracy estimates in studies that permit DK responses may be misestimated. Robust risks associated with asking unanswerable questions and asking questions at all were observed. Implications for working with DK responses during interviews are discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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