Child eyewitness researchers often bin age: Prevalence of the practice and recommendations for analyzing developmental trends

Sierra A. Bainter, Tristan D. Tibbe, Zachary T. Goodman, Debra Ann Poole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Objective: Effective practices for eliciting and analyzing children's eyewitness reports rely on accurate conclusions about age differences in how children retain information and respond to memory probes. Binning, which is the practice of categorizing continuous variables into discrete groups, can lower studies' power to detect age differences and, in some situations, produce significant but spurious effects. In this article, we (a) describe a systematic review that estimated the frequency of binning age in child eyewitness studies, (b) analyze real and simulated data to illustrate how binning can distort conclusions about age and covariate effects, and (c) demonstrate best practices for analyzing and reporting age trends. Hypotheses: We expected that researchers would frequently bin age and that we would replicate the negative consequences of binning in the demonstration data sets. Method: For the systematic review, we retrieved 58 articles describing child eyewitness studies and determined whether researchers binned age for one randomly selected analysis per article. We then compared alternative ways of analyzing actual and simulated data sets. Results: Researchers binned age for 64% of the analyses (88% of analyses involving experimental manipulations vs. 35% of the nonexperimental analyses, ϕ =.55, p <.01). A significant age trend in the real data example was nonsignificant when age was treated as categorical, and in the simulated data sets we demonstrate how this practice may lead to detecting a spurious effect. Conclusions: Treating age as a continuous variable maximizes power to detect real differences without inflating the frequency of spurious results, thereby ensuring that policies regarding child eyewitnesses reflect developmental changes in children's needs and abilities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)327-335
Number of pages9
JournalLaw and Human Behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2020


  • Binning
  • Children's eyewitness testimony
  • Developmental trends
  • Effect size
  • Statistical power


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