Title: Relations Among Childhood Memory, a History of Abuse, Dissociation, and Repression. Subject (s): CHILD abuse; REPRESSION (Psychology); DISSOCIATION (Psychology) Source: Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Nov 99, Vol. 14 Issue 11, p 1172, 21 p, 2 charts Author (s): Melchert, Timothy P. Abstract: The author of this study investigated several questions regarding the relationships between a history of child abuse, recovered abuse memories, childhood memory in general, repression, and dissociation. Of the total sample (N = 560 undergraduate students), one quarter reported a history of child abuse, and 18% of these reported that they had a period when they lacked memories of their abuse. These participants endorsed a variety of descriptions of their recovered memories, many of which do not suggest a lack of conscious access to the memories.
general quality of childhood memory was found to be unrelated to a history of abuse, and most participants, regardless of their abuse history, reported recovering memories from their childhood in general. Repressive personality traits were found to be unrelated to recovering abuse memories, but dissociative traits were found to be weakly associated with recovering abuse memories. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR] AN: 2374281 ISSN: 0886-2605 Full Text Word Count: 8291 Database: Academic Search Elite RELATIONS AMONG CHILDHOOD MEMORY, A HISTORY OF ABUSE, DISSOCIATION, AND REPRESSION The author of this study investigated several questions regarding the relationships between a history of child abuse, recovered abuse memories, childhood memory in general, repression, and dissociation. Of the total sample (N = 560 undergraduate students), one quarter reported a history of child abuse, and 18% of these reported that they had a period when they lacked memories of their abuse. These participants endorsed a variety of descriptions of their recovered memories, many of which do not suggest a lack of conscious access to the memories.
... necessity to work denies other important childhood experiences. (Statement of Child Exploitation, 1997) Of course, a child may work and gain a valuable ... Cheap Labor In my essay I will reflect on the history of child labor and discuss the state of things that exists ... the historical background of this issue and narrate the history of young children being exploited at the close of 18th century in ...
General quality of childhood memory was found to be unrelated to a history of abuse, and most participants, regardless of their abuse history, reported recovering memories from their childhood in general. Repressive personality traits were found to be unrelated to recovering abuse memories, but dissociative traits were found to be weakly associated with recovering abuse memories. Recovered memories of child abuse remain a controversial topic. Empirical evidence has begun to accumulate regarding some aspects of these memories, but there are still limited data available for addressing many of the questions that have been hotly debated recently.’ Many of these questions refer to very complex memory processes which will not be well understood until after much more research is conducted. Nevertheless, this study initiated an exploration of some of these questions. The recovered-memory controversy initially focused almost entirely on childhood sexual abuse (SA).
It was believed that the confusing and secretive nature of incest resulted in an altered psychological processing of those experiences, and consequently memories for these experiences were more frequently repressed (e. g. , Courtois, 1988; Fredrickson, 1992).
The first two empirical studies that investigated this issue also showed that incest survivors in therapy frequently reported recovering memories of child SA.
... have also been shown to have histories of physical and sexual abuse dating back to childhood (Gale, 2003). Many of these ... woman drinks during her pregnancy. Children with FAS may have physical disabilities and problems with learning, memory, attention, problem solving, and ... recovery research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, recovering from this disease can be a long road. ...
Herman and Schatzow (1987) found that 64% of a sample of incest survivor group therapy members reported that they had recovered at least some memories of their abuse, and Briere and Conte (1993) found that 59% of a sample of SA therapy clients reported that there had been some period before they were 18 years old when they could not remember their abuse. The studies that have been conducted since then have shown lower rates of recovered SA memories, although all have shown that a minority of child abuse survivors report recovering at least some memories of their abuse (Elliott & Briere, 1995; Feldman-Summers & Pope, 1994; Loftus, Polonsky, & Fullilove, 1994; Melchert, 1996; Melchert & Parker, 1997; Polusny & Follette, 1996; Williams, 1995).
It was also recently found that those reporting histories of physical and emotional abuse were as likely as those reporting a history of SA to report recovering memories of their abuse (Melchert; Melchert & Parker).
Several writers have hypothesized that not only are child abuse memories commonly repressed or dissociated, but that traumatic child abuse can also cause childhood amnesia (e. g. , Blume, 1990; Courtois, 1988).
The lack of firm evidence to support this hypothesis quickly led to substantial controversy (Loftus, 1993).
Recent studies have shown large amounts of variation in the quality of individuals’ childhood memories, with substantial numbers reporting that they have memories from very early ages while others report that they have no memories from their early childhood at all (Melchert, 1996; Melchert & Parker, 1997).
In neither of these studies, however, was general quality of childhood memory related to a reported history of child abuse. These two studies also investigated the relationship between a reported history of abuse and recovering memories from one’s childhood in general.
If child abuse can cause amnesia but the lost memories can subsequently be recovered, those with known child abuse histories would be more likely to recover greater numbers of childhood memories. This hypothesis also was not supported in these studies, however. Therefore, other than for cases involving organic disorders, to date the substantial individual variation in reported quality of childhood memory and the recovery of childhood memories is not well understood. The mechanisms underlying the memories of child abuse that individuals report recovering have been another focus of controversy. It has often been assumed that those who report recovering abuse memories had repressed or dissociated the memories for some period of time. Repression involving the unconscious blocking of threatening memories initially received most of the attention in the recovered memory literature (e.
... most significant challenges in Native American communities is childhood sexual abuse. American Indian children have a victimization rate of 13.9% ... s relationship to the increased risk of childhood sexual abuse. In 1978, the Indian Child Welfare Act was passed by the ... the creation of child and family service programs. While the ICWA does not specifically mention childhood sexual abuse, the Act was ...
g. , Herman & Schatzow, 1987), while dissociation has since received most of the attention (e. g. , Yates & Nas by, 1993).
The defensive purposes of dissociation are similar to those of repression, but dissociation involves an alteration in consciousness or cognition which results in traumatic memories not being integrated into one’s consciousness or self-schema (Reviere, 1996).
There is much more empirical data supporting models of dissociation than there is regarding repression (Pope & Brown, 1996; Reviere), and there is also some consensus regarding the existence of memory impairments for traumatic events as represented by the inclusion of the dissociative disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).
Repression and dissociation have been controversial hypotheses ever since they were first proposed. There have been numerous conceptualizations of each of these concepts, and their validity remains unclear (Erdelyi, 1990; Holmes, 1990; Pope & Brown, 1996; Reviere, 1996).
A variety of cognitive and neurophysiological evidence suggests that attentional and memory mechanisms are affected by extreme emotional arousal in ways similar to those posited by models of dissociation (Christianson, 1992; Nilsson & Archer, 1992; van der Kolk, 1994).
van der Kolk and Fisher (1995) also found that dissociative traits were related to a longer duration of abuse, physical abuse and neglect, greater reliving of the abuse memories, and self-destructive behaviors such as bingeing and purging, substance use, and self-mutilation. If child abuse results in a reliance on repressive or dissociative personality tendencies for coping and in impairments in childhood memory, then adults’ repressive and dissociative traits should be associated with having poorer childhood memory in general and possibly with recovering greater numbers of childhood memories. These possibilities have not yet been explored.
... , substance abusers and more. There 9 main types of abuse that may be experience by adults and these are physical, sexual, psychological ... Describe forms of abuse which may be experienced by adults (P1) Abuse, defined by the department of health is described as “a ...
Ordinary forgetting and cued recall have also been offered as alternative explanations for recovered child abuse memories (Lindsay & Read, 1994; Loftus, Garry, & Feldman, 1994).
Their role in the recovery of child abuse memories has received little empirical attention, although cues have been found to be powerful aids for the recall of autobiographical information in general (Bower, 1990).
Melchert (1996) and Melchert and Parker (1997) also found that individuals who reported recovering abuse memories described those memories in a variety of ways, some of which do not suggest repression or dissociation (e. g. , several participants in the Melchert study indicated that “I could always remember what happened, but I did not think of it as abuse until I was older”).
These findings suggest that there are varied explanations for recovered abuse memories, though the nature of the recovered memories reported in these two studies remains unclear.
For example, when asked why they thought they lacked memory of their abuse for some period, 31% of the participants in the Melchert and Parker study indicated “I don’t know why.” In addition, nearly half of those in the Melchert study who indicated that they had repressed their abuse memories also indicated that they were primarily intentionally avoiding the memories. The present study addressed each of the questions discussed above. First, it replicated previous studies regarding the relationship of a reported child abuse history to poor childhood memory and recovering childhood memories in general. It also attempted to clarify the nature of individuals’ recovered abuse memories and explore the role that cues play in these memories.
The relationship of repressive and dissociative personality traits to poor childhood memory, recovering childhood memories in general, and recovering child abuse memories specifically were also investigated. One specific hypothesis was also tested. It was hypothesized that participants’ recovered childhood memories would include a disproportionate number of negative memories that had originally been repressed or dissociated. Repressed or dissociated memories are by definition psychologically threatening and presumably negative in valence. Therefore, to the extent that repressed or dissociated childhood memories are recovered, the valence of those memories should be disproportionately negative. The control group to which these memories were compared included participants’ first memories of their childhood.
... on the kitchen table. This is one of my favorite childhood memories. Can you think of yours? Well when you get ... . Well I'm going to tell you about a childhood memory that I've had. I remember every Sunday I ... Childhood Memory Have u ever had a flashback of a memory from when you were an infant? Or have ... . After every quarter of play I would request the score. Whoever my dad said was behind I would root ...
Of course, individuals’ first memories could be generally distorted in terms of their valence, but currently there is no theoretical reason or empirical data to suggest that they are. Consequently, the valence of participants’ first childhood memories was expected to be more representative of their childhood experiences than the valence of their recovered childhood memories. An undergraduate student sample was used to help avoid the possible effects of suggestive therapy techniques and demand characteristics which may exist in clinical samples. Both abused and non abused groups were included so that the effects of abuse history on childhood memory could also be examined. It must be emphasized, however, that this study relied on retrospective self-report data of unknown reliability. Examining this type of data is useful for an initial exploration of the research questions, though it will be necessary to employ other research methodologies to eventually provide converging evidence regarding these questions.
METHOD Participants The participant sample included 560 undergraduate students from a large research university in the southwestern United States. The mean age of the sample was 19. 14 years (SD = 2. 70) and 69% were female (which is representative of the population in the subject pool).
The majority of the participants described their ethnic heritage as European American (80%), and 12% indicated Latin American, 3% indicated African American, 2% indicated Asian American, and 3% indicated other ethnic heritages. Twenty-five percent (n = 140) of the participants reported that they had experienced one or more forms of child abuse.
Eleven percent (n = 59) indicated a history of physical abuse (PA), 19% (n = 108) indicated a history of emotional abuse (EA), and 8% (n = 45) indicated a history of SA. Of the total study sample, 15% (n = 83) indicated that they experienced one of the three forms of abuse, 8% (n = 42) indicated experiencing two forms of abuse, and 3% (n = 15) indicated experiencing all three forms of abuse. The mean age when the SA was reported as beginning was 10. 18 years (SD = 4.
... reported by their clinicians to have a history of abuse in childhood. Sexual abuse, usually incest, was reported in 75%. In addition, ... has enough support and care in his environment to recover from the abuse. End notes:  Schizophrenia according to the ... severe dissociative disorder characterized by disturbances in both identity and memory.Best understood as a posttraumatic condition, MPD is the ...
23), and the mean age when the abuse ended was reported to be 12. 47 years (SD = 4. 28).
Instruments The participants were administered a survey questionnaire which was followed by the two psychological tests described below. The survey inquired about several aspects of their childhood memories, and all of the survey items are found in the text and tables following. Participants identified themselves as having an abuse history by responding to the item, “If you ever experienced physical abuse [or “emotional abuse” or “sexual abuse (unwanted sexual activity) “] as a child, please answer the following questions.” Participants who indicated a history of PA and EA were also asked to rate the severity of the abuse on a scale ranging from 1 (mild) to 5 (severe), and participants who indicated a SA history were asked to indicate the number of sexual contacts they had prior to age 18 with their mothers, fathers, other relatives, others who physically forced sexual contact on them, or others with whom they had other unwanted sexual contact.
They were also asked at what age the SA occurred. Dissociative personality traits were assessed with the Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES) (Bernstein & Putnam, 1986).
This instrument includes 28 items for assessing de realization, depersonalization, deja vu experiences, absorption, and disturbances of identify, memory, awareness, and cognition. It uses a visual analogue response scale (from 0% to 100%) for indicating the amount of time the experiences referred to in each of the items is experienced by the respondent. Split-half internal consistency was found to be. 83, and test-retest stability was found to be.
84 over a 4- to 8-week interval (Carlson & Putnam, 1993; in the present study, Cronbach’s alpha was. 93).
DES scores have been found to discriminate between subjects with and without dissociative disorder diagnoses. The median score of a normal adult control group was found to be 4.
38, for a normal college student sample it was 14. 11, for a clinical sample diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder it was 31. 25, and for a clinical sample diagnosed with multiple personality disorder it was 57. 06 (Bernstein & Putnam).
Repressive personality traits were assessed with the Weinberger Repressive Restraint Scale (WRRS) (Weinberger, 1990).
This instrument is based on research that has found that highly defensive repressor’s report low levels of subjective distress but also show high levels of physiological reactivity to stress.
The 12-item scale uses a true-false response scale, and higher scores indicate higher levels of repression. Cronbach alpha coefficients were found to be greater than. 85 across a variety of samples, and 7-month test-retest reliability was found to be greater than. 70.
Scores were also found to be correlated in predicted directions with a variety of measures of personality and psychopathology (Weinberger & Schwartz, 1990).
Luborsky, CritsChristoph, and Alexander (1990) concluded that the WRRS is a reliable measure of a specific type of repression, namely, a denial of negative and especially aggressive thoughts or behavior and a denial of not measuring up to extremely high standards of conduct. In the present study, however, the WRRS had low internal consistency (Cronbach’s alpha = . 62), which is at the lower boundary of usefulness for the initial stages of construct validation research (Nunn ally & Bernstein, 1994).
Consequently, the findings based on this measure must be interpreted very cautiously. Procedure Participants were randomly selected from a psychology department subject pool where they could obtain credit in an introductory psychology course by participating in the subject pool or by completing alternative activities. Signed informed consent was required for participation, but the consent forms were collected separately from the study questionnaires so that participants’ anonymity could be maintained. No one refused participation. The questionnaires were administered in groups of 22 to 99 participants, and participants were not allowed to sit next to each other so that they had some privacy when completing the questionnaires.
RESULTS General Childhood Memory Responses to the items inquiring about the quality of participants’ childhood memory at various ages, their memory for their first and third grade teachers, and their age in their earliest childhood memory are found in Table 1. There was a significant increase in the reported amount of childhood memory from ages 2 to 5, 5 to 7, and 7 to 10, ts (553, 554, 550) = 15. 73, 13. 90, and 28. 77, respectively, all ps
(In order to reduce the probability of a Type I error but also to avoid a Type II error, particularly given the exploratory nature of this study, the alpha level used to indicate statistical significance was set at. 01. ) Participants also reported remembering their third grade teachers’ faces and names more often than they did for their first grade teachers, t (542) = 5. 32, p
As a group, the participants reported that they were quite young in their earliest memories (M = 3. 38 years, SD = 1. 59).
The first seven childhood memory items were combined to create a single measure of general quality of childhood memory.
The responses to these items were first converted to z-scores (because one item used a different metric than the others).
The responses to the first six items were then summed (higher scores indicate better memory) and the inverse of the seventh item was added to that subtotal (younger ages in one’s first memory indicate better childhood memory).
Scores on the resulting measure were internally consistent (Cronbach’s alpha = . 77), suggesting that individuals reliably report that they experience differences in the general quality of their childhood memories. There was also substantial individual variation in scores on this measure (M = . 02, SD = 4.
50, range = -14. 84-15. 22).
A 2 x 2 x 2 analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to determine if those who reported experiencing the three different forms of child abuse (the independent variables) had poorer childhood memory than those who reported no abuse history. No significant effect on general quality of childhood memory scores was found for a history of PA, EA, of SA, Fs (1, 509) = . 37, p = .
78; . 01, p = . 91; and. 29, p = .
59, respectively, and none of the interactions was significant. To more fully examine the effects of traumatic child abuse on childhood memory, a single measure of abuse severity was computed which took into account having no abuse history as well as suffering multiple forms of abuse. Participants’ PA and EA severity ratings were used to compute this measure. The mean PA severity rating (on a scale of 1 [mild] to 5 [severe]) was 2. 03 (SD = 1. 13), and the mean EA severity rating was 2.
41 (SD = 1. 22).
To obtain an estimate of SA severity, participants’ reported frequency of sexual contact by mothers, fathers, other relatives, others using physical force, and others with whom one had unwanted sexual contact were summed (M = 7. 18, SD = 10. 89, range = 1-51).
To include those with no history of a particular type of abuse, a zero was assigned to the abuse severity rating for that abuse type. The abuse severity ratings for PA, EA, and SA were then converted to z-scores (because one rating used a different metric than the other two), and the three z-scores were then summed. There was substantial variation in the resulting combined abuse severity scores (M = -. 01, SD = 2.
17, range = -. 88-18. 77).
Nevertheless, the correlation between the general quality of childhood memory scores and the combined abuse severity scores was nonsignificant, r (517) = -. 01, p = .
82. Recovered Memories of Childhood in General Nearly two thirds (63%) of the participants reported recovering at least one memory from their childhoods in general (see Item 9, Table 1).
A 2 x 2 x 2 ANOVA was used to determine if those who reported experiencing the three forms of child abuse (i. e.
, the independent variables) recovered greater numbers of childhood memories than those who did not. No significant effect was found for a history of PA, EA, or SA, Fs (1, 545) = . 18, p = . 67; .
00, p = . 99; and 1. 87, p = . 17, respectively, and none of the interactions was significant. The correlation between number of recovered memories reported and the combined abuse severity scores was also nonsignificant, r (553) = . 07, p = .
13, as was the correlation between number of recovered memories and the valence of those memories, r (377) = -. 05, p = . 29. The large majority of those who reported recovering memories indicated that there had been a variety of cues that triggered their recall, and only 18% indicated that there seemed not to be any cues for their memory recovery. The valence of participants’ recovered memories was compared to the valence of their first memories to test the hypothesis that recovered childhood memories include a disproportionate number of negative memories which had been repressed or dissociated before they were recovered. As seen in Table 1, very similar proportions of the participants (10%) rated both their first and their recovered memories as “bad” or “really awful.” When the responses of the 376 participants who answered both items are compared, the proportion who rated their recovered memories negatively was very similar to those who rated their first memories negatively (6.
1% and 2. 4% rated their first memories as “bad” and “really awful” whereas 6. 6% and 3. 2% rated their recovered memories as “bad” and “really awful”).
When the proportions of those who rated their first and recovered memories negatively as opposed to neutral or positive are compared, the difference was not significant at p
Four individuals reported recovering memories of two or three types of abuse, resulting in 18% of the total abuse sample (n = 25) who reported this type of memory experience. For those who reported experiencing just one type of abuse, there was no significant difference between the proportions of those who recovered PA, EA, or SA memories, Chi[sup 2] (2, N = 83) = 4. 86, p = . 09. There was a significant relationship, however, between reporting recovered SA memories and reporting larger numbers of SA incidents, r (140) = . 30, p
001. Reporting the recovery of abuse memories was also significantly correlated with higher combined abuse severity scores, r (140) = . 34, p
08, or when it ended, r (45) = . 10, p = . 52).
Reporting recovered abuse memories also was not related to the general quality of childhood memory scores, r (129) = .
13, p-. 15. The number of participants who reported that they lacked memories of their abuse for some period contrasts with the number who answered the questions inquiring whether they had “ever recovered memories of any form of child abuse” which immediately followed (see Table 2).
There were 38 participants (27% of the total abuse sample) who responded to these items, compared with 25 individuals (18%) who answered the previous ones. The most likely explanation for this discrepancy may be that the 13 individuals who endorsed the latter but not the former items could always remember particular abuse memories but also recovered additional memories of their abuse over time, either additional details regarding their continuously recalled abuse or memories of additional abuse incidents. Follow-up interviews which could clarify this possibility, however, were not conducted.
Sixty-one percent of the 38 participants who reported recovered abuse memories indicated a history of PA, 79% reported a history of EA, and 55% reported a history of SA (66% had reported a history of 2 or 3 types of abuse).
For those who reported a history of one type of abuse, there was no significant difference between the proportions who recovered PA, EA, or SA memories, Chi[sup 2] (2, N = 83) = 3. 15, p = . 21. Higher combined abuse severity scores were associated with reporting that one had recovered abuse memories, r (140) = .
61. With regard to the nature of the recovered abuse memories that were reported, there was only one participant who endorsed the response indicating that she would not have been able to remember the abuse even with reminders due to a lack of conscious memories of the abuse for some period (see Item 1, Table 2).
Another nine individuals indicated that they would not have recalled the abuse without being reminded. The majority of these participants, however, indicated that they had been intentionally avoiding thinking about the abuse and could have remembered it if they had wanted to (n = 25).
The participants indicated a variety of reasons for why they thought they lacked memories of their abuse for some period (see Item 2, Table 2).
Three of the response options were intended to indicate subconscious memory processes (repression or dissociation, ordinary forgetting, and developing a false memory), while the others indicate primarily conscious processes such as intentional memory avoidance or a reinterpretation of always remembered experiences. Nearly one-half of the participants (n = 17) chose responses suggesting subconscious processes (i. e. , repressing or forgetting the abuse, and one participant wrote in that recurring dreams and familiar smells and places reminded her of the abuse).
One-half of these participants (n = 8) had indicated on the previous item, however, that they were intentionally avoiding thoughts of the abuse.
It is not possible to know what these participants meant by these responses, but perhaps they originally intentionally attempted to avoid thoughts of the abuse, and at some point became successful at habitually or automatically (i. e. , subconsciously) avoiding those thoughts (cf. Bower, 1990; Erdelyi, 1993).
The other participants (n = 20) endorsed responses more clearly suggesting conscious processes (i. e.
, intentionally avoiding the memories, reinterpreting continuously held memories, or using substances or compulsive behaviors to help avoid the memories).
The majority of the participants rated their recovered memories as being mostly accurate, and most also indicated that nothing seemed to trigger the recall of those memories. Reporting no cues for the recovery of their memories (responses 1, 2, 3, and 5 were coded as having cues) was not significantly associated with endorsing subconscious versus conscious explanations for the recovered memories, Chi[sup 2] (1, N = 37) = . 19, p = .
67. One half of these participants (n = 19) also reported that they never received any corroboration that the abuse actually happened. Receiving corroboration regarding one’s recovered memories also was not related to endorsing subconscious versus conscious explanations for the memories, Chi[sup 2] (1, N = 36) = . 14, p = . 71. Dissociation The mean score on the DES was 15.
95 (SD = 12. 91).
The dissociation scores were not significantly correlated with general quality of childhood memory, r (490) = -. 02, p = . 66, but they were weakly correlated with the number of recovered general childhood memories reported, r (523) = .
002, and the combined abuse severity scores, r (529) = . 14, p = . 002. DES scores were not significantly associated with a history of PA, r (529) = . 06, p = .
15, or a history of SA, r (529) = . 08, p = . 07. DES scores for the 38 participants who reported recovering abuse memories (M = 23.
22, SD = 15. 01) were significantly higher than for those who did not report recovering abuse memories (M = 17. 24, SD = 11. 86), F (1, 123) = 5. 69, p = . 01 (for the 25 who indicated a lack of memory for their abuse for some period, F (1, 123) = 4.
66, p = . 03).
The 16 participants who endorsed responses suggesting that subconscious processes were responsible for their recovered memories had a mean DES score (21. 79, SD = 16. 62) near the mean for the 20 participants whose responses suggested conscious processes (23. 68, SD = 14.
Repression As noted above, the Cronbach alpha coefficient for the WRRS was low, so results based on this measure are presented only for exploratory purposes. Scores on this scale (M = 2. 02, SD = 1. 92) were not significantly correlated with general quality of childhood memory scores, r (487) = -. 07, p = .
11, or number of recovered general childhood memories reported, r (518) = -. 01, p = . 76. They also were not correlated with reporting a history of PA, EA, or SA, rs (523) = . 06, p = . 17; .
02, p = . 67; and -. 01, p = . 81, respectively, or with the combined abuse severity scores, r (523) = . 03, p = . 49.
Scores for the 38 participants who reported recovered abuse memories were not significantly different from those who did not report recovered abuse memories, F (1, 123) = . 22, p = . 64 (this was also true for the 25 who indicated that they lacked memories of their abuse for a period, F (1, 123) = . 05, p = .
The participants who endorsed responses suggesting that subconscious processes were responsible for their recovered memories had a lower mean WRRS score (1. 71, SD = 1. 64) than those whose responses suggested conscious processes (2. 61, SD = 2. 30).
DISCUSSION This study helps address several questions that have been hotly debated in the recovered memory controversy. First, the study found a large amount of variation in individuals’ perceptions of the general quality of their childhood memory. Assessing the reliability of adults’ childhood memory is a very difficult measurement problem, and there are no widely accepted measures of this variable (Leak, 1995).
Responses to the items used to measure the variable in this study, however, showed a reasonable level of internal consistency and were generally consistent with research regarding the offset of infantile amnesia and the gradual improvement in autobiographical memory across childhood (Bauer, 1996; Fiv ush & Hudson, 1990).
However, a small number (7%) of the participants did report that their first memories are from the age of 1, which is probably not possible.
These participants likely underestimated their age when the events occurred or they recall stories that family members told them regarding events that happened at age 1 but which they cannot actually directly remember. Nevertheless, a reported history of child abuse or of more severe abuse was not significantly associated with reported quality of childhood memory. This is now the third controlled study which has resulted in this finding (see also Melchert, 1996; Melchert & Parker, 1997).
Perhaps significant numbers of the relatively young participants in these studies will eventually recover veridical child abuse memories and the study findings would change as a result.
All three of these studies also used nonclinical samples and uncorroborated self-report data, and other methodologies using clinical samples might result in different findings. Until this research is conducted, however, the available data do not support the hypothesis that child abuse is associated with poor memory for one’s childhood. The majority of the study participants, regardless of their abuse history, also reported recovering memories from their childhood in general. The hypothesis that these memories would be disproportionately negative because a significant number of them had originally been repressed or dissociated was not supported, however. There was a very slight increase in the number of participants who rated their recovered memories negatively as compared to their first memories, but even with a very large amount of statistical power, this difference was not significant at p
Although this hypothesis was not supported, it must also be emphasized that the data do not dis confirm the hypothesis because they were based on two assumptions: (a) A significant number of the memories that were recovered had originally been repressed or dissociated; and (b) participants’ first memories are more representative of their childhood experiences than their recovered memories are. Both of these assumptions may be incorrect. It is possible that the participants have not yet recovered significant numbers of repressed or dissociated childhood memories (i. e. , mechanisms besides repression or dissociation are responsible for the loss and later recall of virtually all of their recovered memories).
If this is true, however, it would suggest that repressed or dissociated childhood memories are at most only rarely recovered by undergraduate students, despite the substantial amount of child abuse and recovered childhood memories that they report.
It is also possible that the participants repressed many of their early negative experiences and their first memories are not more representative of their childhood than their recovered memories are. The likelihood of this possibility cannot be evaluated given the available evidence at this time. A large majority of those who reported recovering childhood memories also reported that cues helped trigger the recall of their memories. This suggests that cued memory recovery may play a significant role in individuals’ autobiographical memory.
No data were collected regarding the reliability of these memories, and it should be noted that the use of cues has been found to generate a large amount of recall but also more errors in recall than traditional fact-oriented interviews (Mem on, Wark, Bull, & Koehnken, 1997).
Cues were reported to play a smaller role, however, in recovering child abuse memories than they did in recovering memories from one’s childhood in general. No explanation for this difference was found, but the kinds of cues which most frequently triggered recall for general childhood events (i. e. , listening to others’s tories about past events, viewing photographs of past events) could serve as relatively direct cues.
Experiencing similarly direct cues for recovering child abuse memories probably occurs far less frequently. This raises the possibility that more frequent cues regarding child abuse would result in more frequent recovery of child abuse memories as well. Of those reporting child abuse histories, 18% reported that there was a period of time when they could not recall the abuse, although their memories later returned. There were also several additional participants who reported that they recovered child abuse memories even though they did not have a period of time when they lacked memories of their abuse. Presumably these participants had continuously remembered some abuse but recovered memories of additional abuse experiences or additional details regarding the abuse they had always remembered. It is important to note that the wording of the two items used to elicit these responses appears to have affected the rate of endorsement of the items.
Nevertheless, at least one-sixth of abuse survivors across a variety of clinical and nonclinical samples have reported that they recovered child abuse memories (Briere & Conte, 1993; Elliott & Briere, 1995; Feldman-Summers & Pope, 1994; Herman & Schatzow, 1987; Loftus, Polonsky, & Fullilove, 1994; Melchert, 1996; Melchert & Parker, 1997; Polusny & Follette, 1996; Williams, 1995).
There also was a weak relationship in the present study between the reported severity of one’s abuse and reporting recovered abuse memories. This may result from a greater likelihood of repression or dissociation among those who experienced more severe abuse, but it may also simply result from having a larger pool of abuse experiences from which memories of individual incidents could be lost and later recovered. The participants in this study endorsed a variety of descriptions of their recovered abuse memories, and it appears that many of these memories were not unavailable for conscious recall. The proportions of participants endorsing various conscious and unconscious memory processes in this study are also similar to those found by Melchert (1996).
At the present time, it is not possible to definitively identify the mechanisms responsible for many recovered memories of childhood, and the survey methodology used in this study provides limited data for this purpose.
There also is no clear boundary between conscious and unconscious mental processes. Nevertheless, the above findings clearly suggest that multiple explanations, including both conscious and unconscious processes, are responsible for the child abuse memories that individuals report recovering in survey questionnaires. This study also found only minimal support for an association between repressive or dissociative personality traits and recovered child abuse memories. Scores on the repressive personality instrument contained a large proportion of measurement error, so the findings based on those scores must be interpreted cautiously. The DES scores were internally consistent, however, and were weakly associated with a history of EA, recovering greater numbers of childhood memories generally, and recovering child abuse memories specifically, although they were not significantly correlated with quality of general childhood memory. Perhaps the repression or dissociation of threatening child abuse memories is at most only weakly related to repressive or dissociative traits, or the WRRS and DES measure aspects of repression and dissociation that are unrelated to memory impairments for psychologically threatening material.
Although these and other possibilities await further examination, the initial findings of this study do not suggest a strong relationship between dissociative and repressive traits and recovering child abuse memories or the general quality of individuals’ childhood memory. Autobiographical memory is an enormously complex phenomenon, and much more research is needed before these questions will be thoroughly answered. Our findings begin to address some of these questions, but the limitations of the data also render the results tentative. In addition to a lack of corroboration regarding the self-reported memories that were examined, the data were obtained from undergraduate students while much of the controversy regarding recovered abuse memories has involved clinical cases.
Many college students have been or do become mental health clients, but clearly the present findings are not generalizable to clinical populations with mental disorders known to affect autobiographical memory (e. g. , clients with dissociative disorders).
There are also limitations associated with the measures used in this study, particularly with regard to what participants meant when they referred to having poor childhood memory or recovered childhood memories, or the self-identification and severity ratings of the child abuse that was reported (severity of sexual abuse was also rated differently than severity of physical or emotional abuse).
Gender differences with regard to all of these processes also need examination. Therefore, replicating this study with a variety of samples and with different methodological approaches as well as continuing to investigate other aspects of autobiographical memory is the only way that the recovered memory controversy will eventually be satisfactorily resolved.
Author’s Note: The author is grateful to Kaylee Brown, Jennifer Main, and D. Alan Woods for their assistance with data collection and entry for this study. NOTE (n 1. ) Several terms have been used to describe recovered child abuse memories (e. g. , repressed, delayed, reinstated, discovered).
The nature of these memories is not yet well understood, however, and there appears to be no consensus about the best term for referring to these memories. The choice to use the term “recovered” in this study is not meant to presume the superiority of any particular theoretical perspective, but is used to refer to individuals’s ubjective experiences of having recovered the memories. It does not presume that these memories are veridical, that they were once unavailable for conscious recall, or that any particular memory mechanism is involved in their recovery. Table 1: Responses (in percentage) to the Childhood Memory Items Legend for Chart: B – No memories at all C – I can remember one or two things D – I can remember several things E – I can remember most of my (2 nd-10 th) year F – Very clear — there are no periods that I cannot remember A B C D E F 1-4. What is your memory like for your childhood at…
Age 10? 2 14 50 25 8 Age 7? 5 30 49 14 3 Age 5? 9 51 32 7 2 Age 2? 57 39 4 1 1 Legend for Chart: B – I can’t remember at all C – I can remember his / her face D – I can remember his / her name E – I can remember his / her face and name A B C D E 5-6. Can you remember your… Third grade teacher? 5 7 6 82 First grade teacher? 9 11 7 73 Legend for Chart: A – Age: 1 B – Age: 2 C – Age: 3 D – Age: 4 E – Age: 5 F – Age: 6 G – Age: 7 H – Age: 8 I – Age: 9 J – Age: 10 7. How old were you in your earliest memory that you have of your life? 7 29 19 23 15 4 1 2 1 1 8. How would you rate the events which happened in your earliest memory in terms of them being good versus bad experience? Really good 49 Nice 29 Neutral 13 Bad 7 Really awful 3 9.
Was there a time when you had no memory of something from your childhood, and then later the memories came back to you? I have never remembered new things about my childhood 38 I have remembered one new thing 12 I have remembered two or three new things 32 I have remembered several new things 15 I have remembered at least 10 new things 4 10. How would you rate the events which happened in these recovered memories in terms of them being good vs. bad experience? Really good 40 Nice 31 Neutral 20 Bad 7 Really awful 3 11. Was there anything that happened that triggered the recovery of these memories? [a] Other people talked about the events and reminded me of what happened. 58 I saw some photograph (s) of what happened, and that reminded me. 50 I read my childhood diary, and that reminded me.
7 I visited the place (s) where the events happened, and the memories came back to me. 27 Nothing seemed to remind me of what happened-the-memories just came out of nowhere. 18 Other (please write in): 5[b] NOTE: The first seven items comprised the general childhood memory measure. Remembering nothing about one’s first or third grade teacher was coded one, remember either his or her face or name was coded three, and remembering both his or her face and name was coded five. [a. ] These percentages sum to more than 100% because many respondents indicated that there had been more than one trigger for their recovered childhood memories.
[b. ] Three participants referred to dreams, 2 referred to seeing a particular person again, 2 referred to smells that triggered memories, 2 referred to a father’s death, and there were a variety of individual responses such as “my boyfriend and I were wrestling,”re listening to music I had listened to when I was little,” and “having to write a paper.” TABLE 2: Responses to the Recovered Abuse Memory Items Item n (%) If you ever recovered memories of any form of child abuse, please answer the following questions. 1. Which of the following is the most true of you? a. I would not have been able to remember the abuse even if someone had reminded me of it because I simply did not have any conscious memories of it for a period of time. 1 (3) b.
I could have remembered it if someone or something had reminded me, but without being reminded, I would not have thought about or recalled the abuse. 9 (24) c. I could have remembered it if I had wanted to think about it, but I was intentionally avoiding thinking about the abuse. 25 (66) d. Other (please write in): 3 (8) [a] Why do you think you lacked memories of the abuse for a period of time? a.
I never really lacked the ability to remember the abuse because I was intentionally avoiding thinking about the abuse. 11 (29) b. I think I repressed those memories; they were blocked out from my consciousness because they were too painful, and I would not have been able to remember the abuse even if someone told me about it. 6 (16) c. I think I just forgot about what happened, and the memories came back to me later when I was reminded of the abuse. 10 (26) d.
I could always remember what happened, but I did not think of it as abuse until I was older. 8 (21) e. I used a lot of alcohol and / or drugs or engaged in other compulsive behaviors to help me avoid thinking about it. 1 (3) f. It is possible that I just imagined that the abuse happened though it never actually did, and the memories that I have are not based on real events. 0 (0) g.
Other (please write in): 2 (5) [b] 3. How accurate do you think your recovered abuse memories are? a. Could be completely false 0 (0) b. Maybe false 3 (8) c. Probably some significant errors 5 (14) d. Mostly accurate 25 (68) e.
Perfectly accurate, exactly as I remember it happening 4 (11) Was there anything that triggered the recovery of your abuse memories? a. A book, article, TV show, or movie reminded me. 2 (5) b. Someone who knew about the abuse reminded me.
3 (8) c. In therapy or a support group, the memory began to return. 1 (3) d. Nothing seemed to be related to my remembering the abuse. 22 (58) e. Other (please write in): 10 (26) [c] 5.
Did you ever get confirmation that the things that happened in your recovered memories actually took place? a. The abuser (s) acknowledged what he / she had done to me. 7 (18) b. Someone who knew about what happened told me about it. 6 (16) c. A diary that I kept (but that I had forgotten about) described the abuse.
1 (3) d. Someone else reported abuse by the same perpetrator. 1 (3) e. Medical or legal records referred to or described the abuse. 1 (3) f. I have never received any support or confirmation that the abuse occurred.
19 (50) g. Other (please write in): 3 (8) [d] [a. ] Written in responses: “I had just forgotten”I can remember the event, but not exactly what happened” and “I just remembered.” [b. ] Written in response: “Recurring dreams reminded me, familiar smells and places reminded me”- (the other participant did not write in a response).
[c. ] Written in responses: “New abuse reminded me of past abuse,” Becoming romantically involved with men “It wasn’t that long ago”Someone else close to me (best friend) going through it”Someone else remembered and told me their experience and I could relate,”My boyfriend”The person who did it and I have talked about it,”Surveys,”Dreams,” and “Getting abused a second time.” [d.
] Written in responses: “My dad admitted my mother emotionally abused my sister and me”My memory has always been accurate” and “I don’t know who he was, I was only 3 – 4.”.