Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Adults recall negative events less accurately than children, study finds

Date:
July 23, 2010
Source:
Cornell University
Summary:
Emotions -- particularly those provoked by negative events -- can cause distorted, inaccurate memories, but less often in children than in adults, according to a new study.

Emotions -- particularly those provoked by negative events -- can cause distorted, inaccurate memories, but less often in children than in adults, according to a new Cornell study.

Related Articles


The findings, published online in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, contradict prevailing legal and psychological thinking and have implications for the criminal justice system, report Charles Brainerd and Valerie Reyna, professors of human development and co-authors of the 2005 book "The Science of False Memory."

The researchers previously demonstrated that adults attach far more meaning to events than children do. But leading memory theories embraced by the legal system claim that adults remember negative events better than children and have fewer false memories about them. Brainerd and Reyna's data show these theories are not accurate.

Experiments conducted at Cornell's Memory and Neuroscience Laboratory show that experiences that stimulate negative emotions are very bad for the accuracy of children's memories but even worse for adults. When an experience has negative emotional qualities, true memory levels are lowest and false memory levels are highest.

The researchers tested children, ages seven and 11, and young adults, ages 18-23, by showing them lists of closely related emotional words -- pain, cut, ouch, cry, injury -- but in each list some related words -- such as "hurt" -- were missing. When asked to recognize words from the list, respondents would mistakenly remember "hurt" as one of the words. These mistakes allowed researchers to determine the level of emotion-induced false memory at each age.

"We found something different than what leading theories of emotional memory in adults say," Brainerd said. Those theories say that "When you're involved in a very negative experience of some sort, like a crime, it focuses your mind, and you really pay attention to details.

"But our research showed that exactly the opposite is true. By manipulating the emotional content of word lists, we found that materials that had negative emotional content in fact produced the highest levels of false memory. And when you add arousal to the equation, memory was distorted more." Two experimental psychologists in China have contacted Brainerd to say that they have successfully replicated all of these results.

Brainerd and Reyna's work "shows that these leading adult theories -- namely that your memory is preferentially accurate for negative emotional experiences -- are wrong," Brainerd said. "We've been able to show that memory is most distorted in those situations."

The implications of the findings are profound for the U.S. legal system. Brainerd, who directs Cornell's psychology and law program, said forensic evidence is gathered in fewer than 10 percent of U.S. felonies, and in less than half of those can the evidence actually be used to prosecute the case.

"In the great preponderance of legal cases, the only evidence that's determinative is what people say happened," Brainerd said. "That's it. So the question of the conditions under which your memory of events is distorted is the most fundamental question about the reliability of evidence -- because it is most of the evidence.

"One of the main reasons why people look at memory and memory distortion is the legal connection," Brainerd said. "In the law, you're dealing with events that are emotional. So the question of whether or not the emotional content of experiences that you're trying to remember screws up your memory is a really big question."

The National Science Foundation supported this research.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cornell University. The original article was written by George Lowery. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. C.J. Brainerd, R.E. Holliday, V.F. Reyna, Y. Yang, M.P. Toglia. Developmental reversals in false memory: Effects of emotional valence and arousal. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 2010; 107 (2): 137 DOI: 10.1016/j.jecp.2010.04.013

Cite This Page:

Cornell University. "Adults recall negative events less accurately than children, study finds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 July 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100722215052.htm>.
Cornell University. (2010, July 23). Adults recall negative events less accurately than children, study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 2, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100722215052.htm
Cornell University. "Adults recall negative events less accurately than children, study finds." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100722215052.htm (accessed March 2, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Monday, March 2, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

This Nasal Treatment Could Help Ease Migraine Pain

This Nasal Treatment Could Help Ease Migraine Pain

Newsy (Mar. 2, 2015) Researchers gave lidocaine to 112 patients, and about 88 percent of the subjects said they needed less migraine-relief medicine the next day. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Facebook Use Can Lead To Depression

How Facebook Use Can Lead To Depression

Newsy (Mar. 1, 2015) Margaret Duffy of the University of Missouri talks about her study on the social network and the envy and depression that Facebook use can cause. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Best Foods to Battle Stress

The Best Foods to Battle Stress

Buzz60 (Feb. 26, 2015) If you&apos;re dealing with anxiety, there are a few foods that can help. Krystin Goodwin (@krystingoodwin) has the best foods to tame stress. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Sleeping Too Much Or Too Little Might Increase Stroke Risk

Sleeping Too Much Or Too Little Might Increase Stroke Risk

Newsy (Feb. 26, 2015) People who sleep more than eight hours per night are 45 percent more likely to have a stroke, according to a University of Cambridge study. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins