So, what have we learned about the two very broad questions posed at the beginning of this prologue? First, can children remember traumatic experiences? The answer is yes, especially if they occur after the period known as infantile amnesia (Howe, in press) and care is taken with the manner in which children attempt to recollect this information (including the manner in which others pose questions). However, memories for these experiences are not immune to processes that affect nontraumatic memories, namely suggestion, false memories, interference, and normal forgetting.
Second, can stress, trauma, and maltreatment affect the course of normal memory development? The growing consensus is yes. In particular, evidence from the neurobiological chapters suggests this might be so, as do the chapters in the cognitive and clinical and legal sections. Although far from over, the story that is emerging is one in which maltreated children may be more hypersensitive to emotional stimuli, possibly due in part to heightened amygdala reactivity following high-intensity trauma exposure. These effects can have far-reaching consequences for memory functioning, including how information is encoded, stored, and consolidated, and even how it is retrieved (also see LaBar, 2007).
Although children who have been maltreated may not have less specific autobiographical memories than children who have not been maltreated, maltreated children may nevertheless experience greater memory errors.
However, as the chapters in this book attest, such memory errors are by no means commonplace or typical of much of maltreated children's remembering. Indeed, when seen, these effects depend jointly on individual difference factors such as neuroendocrine regulation, trauma symptoms, and dissociative experiences (also see Cicchetti, Rogosch, Howe, & Toth, 2007; Eisen, Goodman, Qin, Davis, & Crayton, 2007; Howe, Toth, & Cicchetti, 2006).
Overall, then, stress, trauma, and maltreatment can affect memory development as well as memory for the traumatic experience(s). The interactions are often complex and depend on a whole host of factors, all of which have been documented in the chapters here. The diversity of topics, viewpoints, and approaches presented in this book underline the intricacy of the problem we are dealing with when studying the effects of stress and trauma on children's memory development and then trying to translate these findings into practice. We hope the readers appreciate this complexity as well as the scientific and practical advances made by the writers of these superb chapters.
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