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The present study examined the specificity of autobiographical memory in adolescents and adults with versus without child sexual abuse (CSA) histories. Eighty-five participants, approximately half of whom per age group had experienced CSA, were tested on the Autobiographical Memory Interview. Individual difference measures, including those for trauma-related psychopathology, were also administered. Findings revealed developmental differences in the relation between autobiographical memory specificity and CSA. Even with depression statistically controlled, reduced memory specificity in CSA victims relative to controls was observed among adolescents but not among adults. A higher number of posttraumatic stress disorder criteria met predicted more specific childhood memories in participants who reported CSA as their most traumatic life event. These findings contribute to the scientific understanding of childhood trauma and autobiographical memory functioning and underscore the importance of considering the role of age and degree of traumatization within the study of autobiographical memory.
The purpose of the present research was to examine Deese–Roediger–McDermott false memory for trauma-related and nontrauma-related lists in adolescents and adults with and without documented histories of child sexual abuse (CSA). Individual differences in psychopathology and adult attachment were also explored. Participants were administered free recall and recognition tests after hearing CSA, negative, neutral, and positive Deese–Roediger–McDermott lists. In free recall, CSA and negative lists produced the most false memory. In sharp contrast, for recognition, CSA lists enjoyed the highest d′ scores. CSA-group adolescents who evinced greater posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms had higher rates of false memory compared to (a) non-CSA group adolescents with higher PTSD symptom scores (free recall), and (b) CSA-group adolescents with lower PTSD symptom scores (recognition). Regression analyses revealed that individuals with higher PTSD scores and greater fearful-avoidant attachment tendencies showed less proficient memory monitoring for CSA lists. Implications for trauma and memory development and for translational research are discussed.
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