The longitudinal project was originally designed to examine the impact of family violence, particularly spousal violence, on women and children's mental health (see McCloskey, Figueredo, & Koss, 1995, for further details). Our follow-up assessments on this sample, however, have provided a rich and unique opportunity for addressing questions about the operation of memory under conditions of severe stress. During the first year of the study (Year 1), McCloskey et al. (1995) recruited 363 battered and nonbattered women and one of their children to participate in a study on families. Battered women (n = 193) were recruited through advertisements (radio, newspaper, and shoppers' guides) and flyers posted at battered women's shelters and over 150 community establishments asking them to contact researchers if they had experienced abuse by a male partner in the previous year. For the nonbattered women (n = 170), flyers were posted in the same community establishments recruiting women and children for a study on families (and giving a different phone number). For each family, a "target child" (the participant for the studies described here) between 6 and 12 years of age (M = 9 years) was selected according to a procedure that alternated between male or female sex during the phone intake. Thus, approximately half of the target children were female (n = 179). Fifty-three percent of the participants were white, 35% were Hispanic, 6% were African American, 4% were Native American, and the remaining 2% were of other ethnicities or unclassified. Most of the participants were from low-income households.
The children and mothers took part in separate 3-hour interviews to assess abuse exposure and children's social, emotional, and cognitive functioning. Using the Conflict Tactics Scale (Straus, 1979), the children were questioned about the frequency with which they had been exposed to various forms of mother-directed spousal violence (e.g., the mother being beaten, kicked, threatened with a weapon) and child-directed physical punishment and abuse (e.g., the child being hit with an object, kicked, burned) in the previous year. Children were not asked about exposure to violence prior to this time period, as the goal was to obtain information about the children's recent family circumstances while minimizing the possible influence of memory distortion or forgetting on their reports. Although the primary focus of this study was family violence, participants were also questioned about whether they had ever been sexually abused. Descriptive data on the children's reports of exposure to family violence and sexual abuse during the first year of the project are presented in Table 4.1. Mothers were questioned about the same events (and more) in separate interviews, but for the analyses presented in this chapter, we relied on the teens' reports of violence to table 4.1. Descriptive Data on Children's Reports of Mother- and Child-Directed Aggression and Sexual Abuse at Years 1 and 6
# of Mean Frequency Frequency
Reports in Previous Year Estimates
Mother-directed aggression Child-directed aggression Sexual abuse Year 6 (N = 299)
Mother-directed aggression Child-directed aggression Sexual abuse
194 228 35
100 91 21
Note: Abuse categories for each year were not mutually exclusive; participants could report more than one type of aggression or abuse during any given year. Therefore, for any given year, the number of participants reporting different forms of abuse may exceed the total number of participants for that year.
measure their frequency of exposure to ensure that the events reported were events to which the children were actually exposed. Nevertheless, to reduce the possible impact of fabricated or unreliable reports of violence (or the absence of violence), only participants whose reports were independently corroborated by their mothers were selected for inclusion in the analyses presented here.
We conducted a follow-up assessment on this sample 6 years later (Year 6), when the participants were 12 to 18 years old (M = 15 years). Eighty-two percent of the sample (n = 296) was retained in this second wave of interviews. At the Year 6 interview, the teens' social, emotional, and cognitive functioning, as well as their recent exposure to spousal violence, physical abuse, and sexual abuse, was evaluated using a set of questions comparable to those used in the Year 1 interview. Table 4.1 also provides information regarding the participants' exposure to mother-directed violence and child-directed physical and sexual abuse during Year 6. Note that the frequency of mother-directed violence decreased at the follow-up assessment, in part because many of the mothers were no longer in abusive relationships at the time of the follow-up interviews. The Year 6 interview also included an evaluation of the teens' autobiographical memories for childhood experiences in general, as well as their recollections of any abusive events that had been documented at Year 1. Although we have conducted extensive analyses of the teens' memories of childhood exposure to family violence per se (e.g., Green-hoot, McCloskey, & Glisky, 2005), it is the measures of autobiographical memory for childhood in general that are the focus of the investigations described in this chapter.
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