Double Negatives - The Art of False Denial

April 7, 2009
By Anonymous

Sexual abuse is a problem no matter the manner in which it is regarded. According to officials in the mental health and child protection agencies in the United States, such abuse, especially of children, is not as rare as one might think. Part of the problem with preventing sexual abuse of children lies in the difficulty of collecting accurate statistics on the abuse. Many cases of abuse go unreported (What is Child Sexual Abuse?, 2001). This raises the question of how adults could possibly mistake a child’s denial of actual events when in general they are astute at detecting fabrications (Irvine, 2008).
Chris Irvine’s article Adults easily fooled by children’s false denials, says research deals with the topic of sexual abuse and how easily children can fool their parents, “as long as they are not too ambitious with their lies” (Irvine, 2008). The article further goes on to explain an experiment conducted to test adults’ reactions to outright lies, minor fabrications and denial of true events. Disturbingly enough, it seemed that “adults were relatively good at detecting accounts of fabricated events, [but] they often mistakenly believed children’s denials of actual events” (Irvine, 2008).
This research finding may have important implications for evaluations of child sexual abuse, according to Gail Goodman, a UC Davis psychology professor and study author. Goodman says that the movement to understand true and false reports from a child has been promoted as a result of the large number of children that become involved in the legal system as a result of abuse cases. Goodman added, “’failure to detect false denials could mean that adults fail to protect children who falsely deny actual victimization’” (Irvine, 2008).
While dealing with the aftermath of sexual abuse seems to be intensely fascinating, the goal of preventing the abuse itself is also noble. The article leaves a few questions unanswered. What is it about adults that allow them to detect certain types of fabrication so easily? What is it about false denial that adults are unable to detect? Would children of similar age have an easier time detecting the denial?  

Works Cited
Irvine, C. (2008, August 17). Adults easily fooled by children's false denials, says research. Retrieved September 6, 2008, from
What is Child Sexual Abuse? (2001). Retrieved September 6, 2008, from APA Online:

The author's comments:
Written for a psychology course I took last semester.

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