TELLING THE WHOLE STORY IS HARDER OVER TIME: THE EFFECTS OF DELAY ON CHILDREN'S EVENT MEMORY
Pipe, M.E., National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: Section on Social and Emotional Development, USA
In forensic contexts, children may be interviewed about events that have taken place months or years earlier, for example, as a result of delayed allegations or delays arising from the legal process itself. Such long delays might be expected to result in substantial forgetting, perhaps particularly in the case of young children. Yet in some instances children may show remarkable evidence of memory for specific experiences even years later, raising the questions of how and when children's memories most likely to be affected by the passage of time. Analyses of children's accounts of experiences obtained following delays as short as a few minutes and as long as several years, based on both analogue studies and field studies of interviews conducted with children suspected of having been abused, show that forgetting is most rapid soon after the experience, although statistically significant decreases in the amount of information reported may not appear for several months. How much information is lost over time depends, however, on several variables, including the nature of the event, the occurrence of intervening interviews or experiences, and the interview itself. For instance, a single interview or reinstatement of the event context may attenuate the effects of delay. Although these analyses confirm the advantages of interviewing children about forensically-relevant experiences as early as possible, they also illustrate that there are conditions under which memories are likely to be robust and escape the ravages of time in crucial respects.