Childhood traumatic events and adolescent overgeneral autobiographical memory: findings in a U.K. cohort.
Crane C., Heron J., Gunnell D., Lewis G., Evans J., Williams JMG.
BACKGROUND: Overgeneral autobiographical memory has repeatedly been identified as a risk factor for adolescent and adult psychopathology but the factors that cause such over-generality remain unclear. This study examined the association between childhood exposure to traumatic events and early adolescent overgeneral autobiographical memory in a large population sample. METHODS: Thirteen-year-olds, n = 5,792, participating in an ongoing longitudinal cohort study (ALSPAC) completed a written version of the Autobiographical Memory Test. Performance on this task was examined in relation to experience of traumatic events, using data recorded by caregivers close to the time of exposure. RESULTS: Results indicated that experiencing a severe event in middle childhood increased the likelihood of an adolescent falling into the lowest quartile for autobiographical memory specificity (retrieving 0 or 1 specific memory) at age 13 by approximately 60%. The association persisted after controlling for a range of potential socio-demographic confounders. LIMITATIONS: Data on the traumatic event exposures was limited by the relatively restricted range of traumas examined, and the lack of contextual details surrounding both the traumatic event exposures themselves and the severity of children's post-traumatic stress reactions. CONCLUSIONS: This is the largest study to date of the association between childhood trauma exposure and overgeneral autobiographical memory in adolescence. Findings suggest a modest association between exposure to traumatic events and later overgeneral autobiographical memory, a psychological variable that has been linked to vulnerability to clinical depression.