Trauma memories - like all memories - are malleable and prone to distortion. Indeed, there is growing evidence - from both field and lab-based studies - to suggest that the memory distortion follows a particular pattern. People tend to remember more trauma than they experienced, and those who do, tend to exhibit more of the "re-experiencing" symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Our own research suggests that the likely mechanism underlying that distortion is a failure in people's source monitoring. After a traumatic experience, intentional remembering (effortful retrieval) and unintentional remembering (intrusive mental imagery) can introduce new details that, over time, assimilate into a person's memory for the event. We believe that understanding the role these factors play in distorting people's memories for traumatic experiences is both theoretically and practically important, particularly given their potential role in influencing people's recovery.
- Source monitoring
- Traumatic memory