Description: You have most certainly heard, somewhere, that people who witness traumatic events do not make very good eye witnesses, but do you know why that is? Oh, and suggesting that it might be related to Freudian defensiveness is not allowed (it is uninvestigable). So why might it be that people do not simply NOT remember but often remember things wrong – such as the race of the gunman in the case discussed in the article linked below? Well, remember that memory is based on associations (it is NOT a PVR recording) so think about what else might be at play in the case of memory for traumatic events and then have a look at the article linked below which contains a number of research items on this topic.
Source: Jazmine Barnes Case Shows How Trauma Can Affect Memory, Sandra E. Garcia, Science, The New York Times.
Date: January 6, 2019
Photo Credit: Karsten Moran for The New York Times
So, our memories fit with our previous memories sometimes more than they fit with reality. Also, the tunnel vision associated with rapid activation of the H.P.A. axis (the stress response in the brain and nervous system) gets in the way of our being able to recall detailed memory for traumatic events and their contexts. Finally, when we add in the bottleneck that is working memory and you can see how messed up memory for traumatic events could be. An additional line of thinking and possible research would be to try and figure out what police officers and other who collect eye witness accounts of traumatic events ought to do about these factors.
Questions for Discussion:
- How accurate are the accounts of eye witnesses to traumatic events?
- If their accounts are not so good, why might that be?
- What sorts of things would you suggest to police officer investigating traumatic events with the assistance of eye witness accounts in order to make their jobs easier or at least more effective in such cases?
References (Read Further):
McNally, R. J. (2005). Remembering trauma. Harvard University Press.
Southwick, S. M., Morgan, C. A., Nicolaou, A. L., & Charney, D. S. (1997). Consistency of memory for combat-related traumatic events in veterans of Operation Desert Storm. American Journal of Psychiatry, 154(2), 173-177. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Charles_Morgan/publication/14193219_Consistency_of_Memory_for_Combat-Related_Traumatic_Events_in_Veterans_of_Operation_Desert_Storm/links/0912f50fdf1a5ada25000000.pdf
Byrne, C. A., Hyman Jr, I. E., & Scott, K. L. (2001). Comparisons of memories for traumatic events and other experiences. Applied Cognitive Psychology: The Official Journal of the Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 15(7), S119-S133. http://www.thrivetraining.info/wp-content/uploads/CPI-29-Comparisons-of-memories-for-traumatic-events-and-other-experiences.pdf
Krinsley, K. E., Gallagher, J. G., Weathers, F. W., Kutter, C. J., & Kaloupek, D. G. (2003). Consistency of retrospective reporting about exposure to traumatic events. Journal of Traumatic Stress: Official Publication of The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, 16(4), 399-409. http://faculty.uml.edu/darcus/47.375/aversive_exp/krinsley_etal_03.pdf
Cordon, I. M., Pipe, M. E., Sayfan, L., Melinder, A., & Goodman, G. S. (2004). Memory for traumatic experiences in early childhood. Developmental Review, 24(1), 101-132. http://www.thrivetraining.info/wp-content/uploads/CPI-151-Memory-for-traumatic-experiences-in-early-childhood.pdf