The Impact of Traumatic Events on Eyewitness Memory
The effect on memory of experiencing a traumatic event is of great import to researchers interested in studying eyewitness memory in the forensic context. Individuals who witness criminal events or who are themselves victims of criminal activity, such as robbery or sexual assault, are often traumatized by these experiences, and there is evidence to suggest that their trauma may have memorial consequences. In this chapter, we explore the complexities of the relationship between trauma and memory. We begin with an overview of the literature that examines the impact of stress on memory. We suggest that a fuller understanding of the effects of traumatic events on a victim/witness's memory can be gained by increasing cooperation between eyewitness researchers and those working more directly with actual victims of crime (e.g., clinicians). We also present a proposed framework for the study of the impact of trauma on eyewitness memory. The framework deals with (a) how the nature of the original event affects memory and (b) changes in memory over time. This framework yields a taxonomy of the varying qualities of eyewitness recall that includes six behavioral/emotive/cognitive patterns of eyewitness memory.