Changes in trauma memory & patterns of posttramatic stress (PTSD)

By Sharon Dekel and George A. Bonanno
Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, Vol 5(1), Jan 2013, 26-34. doi: 10.1037/a0022750


The traditional static view of trauma memory holds that memories for such events are fixed and relatively unchanging over time.

A more recent dynamic view proposes that memory for potential trauma, like memory for ordinary events, changes with time.

The present study examined predictions from these competing theories in repeated assessments of high exposed survivors of the September 11th (9/11) attacks. Memory was assessed using both standardized questionnaires and a free recall paradigm. These data and a measure of posttraumatic stress were obtained at 7 and 18 months post-9/11.

Results showed that survivors’ recollections of 9/11 varied between assessment points and were moderated by their trajectory of posttraumatic stress. Individuals who were either resilient or recovered over time created a more benign memory of the event over time, whereas individuals who experienced chronic posttraumatic stress had relatively unchanging memories.

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