Memory & Cognition

, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 151-163

First online:

Memory for child sexual abuse information: Simulated memory error and individual differences

  • Kelly McWilliamsAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of California
  • , Gail S. GoodmanAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of California Email author 
  • , Kristen E. LyonsAffiliated withUniversity of Minnesota
  • , Jeremy NewtonAffiliated withSaint Martin’s University
  • , Elizabeth Avila-MoraAffiliated withClaremont Graduate University

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Building on the simulated-amnesia work of Christianson and Bylin (Applied Cognitive Psychology, 13, 495–511, 1999), the present research introduces a new paradigm for the scientific study of memory of childhood sexual abuse information. In Session 1, participants mentally took the part of an abuse victim as they read an account of the sexual assault of a 7-year-old. After reading the narrative, participants were randomly assigned to one of four experimental conditions: They (1) rehearsed the story truthfully (truth group), (2) left out the abuse details of the story (omission group), (3) lied about the abuse details to indicate that no abuse had occurred (commission group), or (4) did not recall the story during Session 1 (no-rehearsal group). One week later, participants returned for Session 2 and were asked to truthfully recall the narrative. The results indicated that, relative to truthful recall, untruthful recall or no rehearsal at Session 1 adversely affected memory performance at Session 2. However, untruthful recall resulted in better memory than did no rehearsal. Moreover, gender, PTSD symptoms, depression, adult attachment, and sexual abuse history significantly predicted memory for the childhood sexual abuse scenario. Implications for theory and application are discussed.


Individual differences Memory Child sexual abuse Eyewitness testimony