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The social and cultural context of remembering : implications for recalling childhood sexual abuse

Fivush, Robyn and Saunders, Jo (2015) The social and cultural context of remembering : implications for recalling childhood sexual abuse. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 29 (6). pp. 843-845. ISSN 0888-4080

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Abstract

Remembering is a social cultural activity. Contributors to this Special Issue were asked to address how conversations about personally experienced past events might or might not influence subsequent memory, especially in light of current controversies regarding historical memories of sexual abuse. For many years, the study of human memory focused on the individual engaging in a cognitive activity that produced a specific representation of a past event at a specific time point. But as the papers in this issue make clear, memory is an active ongoing social process that has cascading effects over time, an idea first developed by Bartlett (1932) and championed by Neisser (1982). Even when reminiscing to ourselves, there is an imagined audience, a way of expressing memories of our past selves to our current selves (Halbwachs, 1925/1952). What is remembered about any given event on any given day will depend on both the history of that memory, the specific local context within which the individual is remembering, and the larger sociocultural developmental history within which the individual is embedded (Nelson & Fivush, 2004). In this commentary, we pull the threads through these contributions, and discuss three major factors that contribute to remembering: language, emotion and time. These are, obviously, “big” constructs, but we try to weave together arguments and findings presented across the contributions to this issue. We end with some thoughts on what this might mean specifically for remembering childhood sexual abuse.