Memory for an Instance of a Repeated Event

Often when witnesses allege repeated abuse, they are asked to recall details of an instance of the repeated abuse. To do this, forensic interviewers will focus children’s attention on the first or last instance, or they will ask the child to report a time the child “remembers best.” These directions assume that children can recall “one time,” and that the first and last instances will, on average, be remembered better than the middle instances. The presence of a serial position curve was tested in Connolly and Price (2013) with a case study of an adult. Memory reports of the first and last instances were less inconsistent than reports of the middle instances. However, reports of all instances were very inconsistent, suggesting that details were not tightly linked to instances. In this relatively new program of research we return to basics. We ask the question “Are there conditions under which children can reliable recall an instance of a repeated event?” In none of our repeat event studies do children recall very much about a target instance. For instance, in Connolly and Gordon (in press) asking about the general routine first led to more reported details than asking about the instance first, but question order had no effect on children’s ability to attribute details to instances. In other words, children knew what happened but they knew little about when it happened. Identifying conditions under which children may be able to recall an instance of a repeated event is the topic of a SSHRC grant that I received in 2013. In the initial studies, we found that children can recall slightly more about an instance of a repeated event if the target instance contained a deviation than if it did not. However, it may be that the deviation must change the context of the entire instance and the effect may be stronger in younger than older children (Connolly, Gordon, Gomes, & Price, in prep). We are pursuing this line of research.  

Further Reading:

Connolly, D. A., Gordon, H. M., Woiwod, D. M., & Price, H. L. (2016). What children recall about a repeated event when one instance is different from the others. Developmental Psychology, 52(7), 1038–1051.

Connolly, D. A., & Price, H. L. (2013). Repeated interviews about repeated trauma from the distant past: A Study of Report Consistency. In B. Cooper, M. Ternes, & D. Griesel (Eds.), Applied Issues in Investigative Interviewing, Eyewitness Memory, and Credibility Assessment (pp. 191-217). New York: Springer.

Connolly, D. A., & Gordon, H. M. (in press) General versus specific prompts: Does it matter which is asked first when interviewing children. Psychology, Crime, and Law.

Connolly, D. A., Gordon, H. M., Gomes, D., & Price. H. L. (in prep). Does a deviation help children to recall an instance of a repeated event?

Memon, A., Connolly, D. A., Brewin, C. R., Meyer, T., Seidel, J., Anderson, S., Rijkeboer, M., & Arntz A., (2021) How do adults with post‐traumatic stress disorder from childhood trauma talk about single versus repeated traumas? Applied Cognitive Psychology.