Abused children are sometimes asked to testify about their experience in different environments, such as in court. However, one question remains: can we rely on these testimonies? The goal of this study was to evaluate stress hormone levels as well as memory abilities of youth that were either maltreated or not. To do so, the authors recruited 317 kids (143 that were maltreated and 174 that were not maltreated) between 6 and 13 years of age (average age = 9.17 years) that participated in a summer camp for 1 week. Each day, for one week, a saliva sample was taken at 9am to measure the level of cortisol, an important stress hormone. In addition, a series of tests were administered to each child to evaluate various aspects of their learning capacity and memory. The results of this study showed that the capacity to recall information, in short or long term, did not differ between the group of children that were maltreated and the control group. However, the children that were emotionally neglected or maltreated and that presented lower levels of cortisol had a higher rate of false recognition on a memory task (commonly named false memory, which means the child had a memory of something that never happened). These results show the importance of taking the endocrine profile into account in order to better understand the link between early adversity and false memories. In fact, these results have great impact in the different areas where children are asked to testify, notably in court.
Title: The effects of maltreatment and neuroendocrine regulation on memory performance
Authors: Dante Cicchetti, Fred A. Rogosch, Mark L. Howe & Sheree L. Toth
Journal: Child Development (2010) vol. 8 (15) pp. 1504-1519