Objective. Protecting sexually abused children hinges on their ability to remember and report events surrounding alleged incidents of abuse. This study was designed to provide information on young children's memory and recall of stressful experiences.
Methodology. Children's memory for features of a voiding cystourethrogram (VCUG) experience were examined because this invasive procedure is similar in many respects to incidents of sexual abuse. The recall performance of 24 3- to 7-year-olds was assessed immediately after the VCUG and after a delay of 6 weeks using a hierarchically structured interview protocol including both open-ended and more specific questions. To assess correlations between recall performance and distress, behavioral and physiological indicators of distress were measured during the procedure.
Results. The children remembered 88% of the component features of the VCUG experience at the initial assessment and 83% after 6 weeks. Behavioral and salivary cortisol measures indicated that the children were distressed during the procedure. Although several of the behavioral measures were correlated negatively with the amount of recall, levels of salivary cortisol did not predict the children's recall performance.
Conclusion. The findings suggest that, under some conditions, young children can provide accurate and detailed reports of personally experienced distressful events.
- Received September 9, 1993.
- Accepted December 4, 1993.
- Copyright © 1994 by the American Academy of Pediatrics