Hunt, Daniel (2018) An Exploration of the Effectiveness of Missing Children Publicity Appeals. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Missing children raise considerable concern by their family, friends and members of the public for their well-being. A common approach in these circumstances by law enforcement and charities is to publish an appeal through the media that requests members of the public to help them locate the child. Despite its frequent use and importance in helping to locate missing children, the research literature is very limited in exploring the effectiveness of these appeals in locating a missing child with most of the research being performed in the USA. The present thesis therefore investigated factors that are associated with the effectiveness of missing children appeals to fill in the gap in the literature and to enhance our understanding. Three exploratory experimental research studies were performed to explore the factors associated with recall accuracy and recall error from the descriptions, photographs and type of format design of mock missing children appeals. The results found that shorter and more newsworthy content enclosed in the type of descriptions of missing children and an increase in the time spent observing the appeals were significantly associated with improving recall accuracy. The current thesis also found that presenting participants with multiple photograph appeals of different missing children significantly reduces identification accuracy. Moreover, higher individual levels of confidence in own recall accuracy, text-based and photograph-based information within mock missing children appeals, and the initial recall accuracy scores, were also found to significantly influence the level of recall accuracy by members of the public.

The current thesis also sought to explore the underlying motivations behind the general public in contacting or not contacting the police. Presently, there is no research study that has explored the willingness to report missing children to the police with the wider associated, but limited, research only focusing on contacting the police by victims of a crime. The study therefore sought to explore whether a participant would or would not contact the police and why this may be the case when they believe to have located a missing child. Across the three experimental studies, the importance of locating the missing child, the perceived belief of experiencing future negative feelings of guilt, high level of confidence in recall accuracy, and considering the missing person in relation to themselves or to a known individual, were found to increase the likelihood of contacting the police. In contrast, the belief that contacting the police would waste the police’s time and resources and having a low level of confidence in their own recall accuracy were factors found to reduce the likelihood of contacting the police by members of the public. The implications and the application of the findings in real-life settings, the limitations and future research directions are also discussed.

FINAL THESIS - Hunt, Daniel.pdf - Accepted Version
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