Trauma exposure in childhood impairs the ability to recall specific autobiographical memories in late adolescence


  • We would like to thank Edel Bratlie, all the participants who gave up their time to contribute to this study, and the teachers that made the study possible. Furthermore, we thank Ann-Christin Gavén, Ida Aagaard, and Ingvild Skeie for classifying the data in Study One. These studies were supported by a starting grant from the University of Oslo to the first author.


J. M. G. Williams (1996) predicted that exposure to potentially traumatizing events at an early age would give rise to overgeneral recall from autobiographical memory, i.e., recall of general rather than specific events, and that in adolescence this tendency would be uncorrelated with psychopathological symptoms, e.g., depression. This was supported by two studies where war-exposed Bosnian adolescents produced significantly fewer specific autobiographical memories than a Norwegian control group, as did bombing-exposed Serbian adolescents compared to nontrauma-exposed Serbians. No significant correlations were found between autobiographical memory specificity and measures of depression, anxiety, dissociation or impact of trauma, which is consistent with Williams' idea that an overgeneral memory retrieval strategy is at first protective, and a risk factor for depression only upon reaching adulthood.