Pause for effect: A 10-s interviewer wait time gives children time to respond to open-ended prompts

Brooke E. Rezmer, Lisa A. Trager, Mary Catlin, Debra Ann Poole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


When researchers and helping professionals interview children about a target event, how long should they tolerate silence before delivering another prompt? In other words, at what point are children so unlikely to begin talking again that continued silence would likely be unproductive? To test the reasonableness of a 10-s wait time guideline during open-ended prompting, we analyzed the wait times of research assistants (N = 7) who interviewed with a 10-s guideline, timed how quickly children responded to prompts, and also timed pauses within children's event narratives. In our sample (105 conversations with children aged 4–8 years), interviewers complied fully with the 10-s rule in the majority of interviews, children often paused for longer than 5 s before beginning to talk about the event or continuing a narrative, and more than 96% of children's pauses that were followed by event information fell within the 10-s window. These findings show that the 10-s wait time was a practical guideline that gave children time to respond without peppering interviews with uncomfortably long pauses. We conclude that adding wait time guidelines to protocols for interviewing children, and augmenting guidelines with wait time training for research assistants and helping professionals, could improve the quality of information obtained from children and advance our understanding of age differences in event memory.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104824
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
StatePublished - Jun 2020


  • Children
  • Interviewer wait time
  • Interviewing
  • Interviewing guidelines
  • Open-ended prompts
  • Pause times


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