Cognitive Perspectives

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In the second part, "Cognitive Perspectives," the authors examine memory for traumatic experiences and whether those experiences result in fundamental changes in children's memory development. In Chapter 4, Greenhoot, Bunnell, Curtis, and Beyer examine autobiographical memory for family violence using longitudinal data. These authors examine what is known about changes in autobiographical memory development and memory functioning that may be brought about by chronic exposure to stressful events such as abuse. Following this review, Greenhoot and colleagues present findings from their own research on these issues, integrating findings from their longitudinal study of children exposed to various forms of domestic violence and using these data to disentangle competing explanations concerning the mechanisms underlying these memory dysfunctions.

Chapter 5, by Ogle, Block, Harris, Culver, Augusti, Timmer, Urquiza, and Goodman, examines the claim that childhood trauma leads to a specific type of autobiographical memory functioning, namely "overgeneral memory." The authors provide a comprehensive review of scientific theory and research on autobiographical memory development, memory for trauma-related and nontrauma-related information in traumatized individuals, and autobiographical memory in nontraumatized and traumatized adolescents and adults. Finally, they present preliminary findings from an ongoing study that examines autobiographical memory development in documented child sexual abuse victims versus matched comparisons with participants who have no known history of child sexual abuse. Contrary to the overgeneral memory hypothesis, the authors conclude that individuals with child maltreatment histories, especially those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), may overfocus on trauma in their lives and in their pasts, and this focus may make their autobiographical memories particularly accurate, especially for trauma-related information.

Chapter 6, by Bauer, Burch, Van Abbema, and Ackil, examines children's memory for a naturally occurring disaster (a tornado). Specifically, these authors tackle the deeply rooted assumption that highly stressful and traumatic events are remembered differently relative to events that are more affectively neutral or positive. The authors evaluate this assumption using data from a study of children's reports of the experience of a tornado that devastated the town of St. Peter, Minnesota, in March of 1998. The evaluation is multidimensional, including analyses of the amount children remembered, the type of information remembered, and the extent to which their reports were affected by their conversational partners, namely their mothers. The authors conclude that although there are some differences between children's reports of traumatic and non-traumatic events (e.g., conversations about the tornado were longer and had greater breadth than those about the nontraumatic events), there are some very important similarities (e.g., the level of detail provided about the traumatic and nontraumatic events did not differ).

Chapter 7, by Davis, Quas, and Levine, looks at the role of discrete emotions and children's memory for stressful experiences. The argument here is that if we are to understand children's memory for stressful events, we need to look beyond "distress" as a unitary construct and begin to evaluate children's understanding or appraisals of stressful events as well as children's discrete emotional experiences and emotion regulation techniques. The argument continues that with development, children appraise situations and regulate their emotions in increasingly complex ways. Younger children, with similar but simpler appraisal processes than adults and limited emotion regulation strategies, are likely to have a more narrow focus.

Together these chapters provide an up-to-date exegesis of the study of children's memory for traumatic experiences and the consequences of stress, trauma, and maltreatment on subsequent memory development. Although in many circumstances traumatic experiences are remembered better than nontraumatic experiences, the two kinds of memories exhibit many similarities, including, but not limited to, susceptibility to interference, suggestion, forgetting, and false recollection. These chapters also alert us to the need to refocus some of our research efforts by focusing on the impact of events on the children who experience them, including the types of appraisals children make about these events as well as whether there are emotional sequelae associated with these experiences. Like those in the first part, these chapters remind us that a truly comprehensive understanding of stress, trauma, and memory development requires a multifaceted approach to research, one that benefits from interdisciplinary collaborations.

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