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Effect of Being a Victim or Witness of Family Violence on the Retrieval of Autobiographical Memories

NCJ Number
Child Abuse & Neglect Volume: 25 Issue: 11 Dated: November 2001 Pages: 1427-1437
Yael Orbach; Michael E. Lamb; Kathleen J. Sternberg; J. M. G. Williams; Samia Dawud-Noursi
Date Published
November 2001
11 pages
This Israeli study tested the hypothesis that children who had experienced family violence (as victims of physical abuse and witnesses of interparental physical violence) would be depressed 7 years after the exposure to family violence and would be more likely at that time to give generic-categorical responses than children in a comparison group; the study also expected that the levels of depression would correlate with the extent to which the children relied on generic-categorical retrieval strategies.
Data were obtained from a longitudinal study that examined the effects of family violence on Israeli children. A total of 72 children, 8 to 12-years-old were recruited in 1988/1989 through social workers in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv (Israel). These children were reinterviewed in 1995/1996 when they averaged 14 years old. A total of 22 children were excluded from the study because their status changed between the first and second assessment phases, leaving 34 children who had experienced some form of family violence and 16 children who had never experienced any form of family violence. Childhood depression was measured with the Child Depression Inventory. Autobiographical memory style was assessed by using responses to questions from the Family Disagreements Questionnaire, which focuses on child-parent and interparental disagreements. Questions asked the child to describe issues, incidence, and characteristics of child-parent and interparental disagreements, arguments, disputes, parental punishment, and parental physical violence. "Generic-categorical" recollections were those that summarized a number of events on the basis of common features typical of all. As hypothesized, there was a positive correlation between the extent of "generic-categorical" memory retrieval and depression level. There was not evidence, however, that autobiographical memory retrieval was affected by family violence. These findings suggest that the effect of family violence on children's memory retrieval may be mediated by depression. 3 tables and 53 references