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Child Abuse & Neglect

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Objective: Individual differences in quality of childhood memory and recovered memories from childhood remain poorly understood. Therefore, this study tested several hypotheses which may help account for the large amount of variation that individuals report in the general quality of their childhood memory and the valence of the memories that many individuals report recovering from their childhoods. It was hypothesized that family of origin dysfunction would be associated with poorer childhood memory, that current depressed mood would be associated with impaired childhood recall and the recall of negative memories, and that the content of recovered childhood memories would be disproportionately negative because they include a significant number of memories which had been repressed or dissociated.

Method: Questionnaires were administered to 553 college students, 27% of whom reported a history of child abuse.

Results: The participants reported substantial variation in the general quality of their childhood memories and also a wide variety of different types of experiences for both their first childhood memories and the recovered memories that most of them had from their childhoods. Weak associations were found between family of origin dysfunction and poorer general quality of childhood memory, but the study as a whole resulted in few significant findings.

Conclusions: Only weak support was found for some of the factors that have been hypothesized to distort autobiographical memory. The substantial individual variation in childhood memory that has been reported by college student samples remains poorly understood.


Accepted version. Child Abuse & Neglect, Vol. 22, No. 12 (December 1998): 1203-1216. DOI. © 1998 Elsevier. Used with permission.

Timothy Melchert was affiliated with Texas Tech University at the time of publication.

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