Findings from a Longitudinal Study of Family Violence

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ANDREA F. GREENHooT, sARAH L. Bunnell, Jennifer s. curtis, and alisa MILLER BEYER

Exposure to violence and abuse in the home can wreak havoc in the lives of children. Several decades of research have established that family violence and abuse are associated with atypical patterns of social, emotional, and cognitive development, including lower scores on language and intelligence assessments (Coster, Gersten, Beeghly, & Cic-chetti, 1989; Hoffman-Plotkin & Twentyman, 1984; Oates, Peacock, & Forrest, 1984; Trickett, 1993), lower self-esteem (Arata, Langhinrichsen-Rohling, Bowers, & O'Farrill-Swails, 2005; Bolger, Patterson, & Ku-persmidt, 1998; Kim & Cicchetti, 2004), and higher levels of aggression and psychopathology (Connor, Steingard, Cunningham, Anderson, & Melloni, 2004; Downey & Walker, 1992; Herrera & McCloskey, 2003; McCloskey, Figueredo, & Koss, 1995). A long-standing issue in the clinical literature is whether exposure to abuse during childhood also leads to disturbances in autobiographical memory development, as clinicians report that many adult survivors of child abuse have difficulty remembering large portions of their childhoods (e.g., Herman & Schatzow, 1987). Consistent with these observations, there is mounting empirical evidence of autobiographical memory impairments in adults who report childhood histories of abuse or other traumas (e.g., Henderson, Hargreaves, Gregory, & Williams, 2002; Hermans et al., 2004; Kuyken & Brewin, 1995). The clinical significance of autobiographical memory problems has served as the impetus for much of this research. It is generally agreed that our self-concepts and our relationships with other people are built, at least in part, on our memories of our past experiences (Fivush, Haden, & Reese, 1996; Fivush & Vasudeva, 2002; McAdams, 1993; Thorne, 2000). Moreover, autobiographical memory problems have been linked to deficits in interpersonal problem-solving and poorer outcomes for individuals in therapy (Brittlebank, Scott, Williams, & Ferrier, 1993; Evans, Williams, O'Loughlin, & Howells, 1992; Pollock & Williams, 2001; Sidley, Whitaker, Calam, & Wells, 1997). Thus, autobiographical memory dysfunctions may have serious implications for well-being.

In addition to the clinical implications, an understanding of trauma-related memory problems and their underlying mechanisms is of considerable relevance to the recent public and scientific debate over the impact of traumatic stress on memory and testimony for childhood experiences. Nonetheless, these issues have only recently been explored within the literature on memory development (e.g., see Eisen, Goodman, Davis, & Qin, 1999; Howe, Cicchetti, Toth, & Cerrito, 2004; Howe, Toth, & Cicchetti, 2006). In this chapter, we examine what is known about changes in autobiographical memory development or memory functioning that may be brought about by chronic exposure to stressful events such as abuse. We begin with a discussion of the empirical literature on autobiographical memory disturbances among adults who report having been abused as children, followed by a consideration of the major theoretical explanations for abuse-related impairments. We then present our own research on these issues, integrating findings from our longitudinal study of children exposed to various forms of domestic violence. Finally, we conclude with a treatment of the plausibility of competing explanations for the mechanisms contributing to these memory dysfunctions.

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