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Memory narrowing in children and adults

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Abstract

The memory narrowing effect posits that stress enhances memory for central information at the expense of memory for peripheral details. This effect is well established in adults, but not in children, although studies have not directly compared children's and adults' memory for central versus peripheral details of an identical distressing experience. In the present study, 9–12 year-old and adult participants completed a laboratory stressor during which measures of self-reported stress was collected. Two weeks later, participants returned for a surprise memory test regarding central and peripheral details of the laboratory stressor. Greater stress predicted memory narrowing in both children and adults, as indexed via decreased correct responses and increased don't know responses to questions about peripheral relative to central details. Findings have implications for theories concerning stress and memory, particularly in children, and for evaluating eyewitness memory in legal contexts. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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