Sexual assault is a terrifying experience that may create """"""""flashbulb memories."""""""" These are especially indelible memories, which form when events exceed critical levels of surprise and consequentiality, and consist of a permanent record of the contents of awareness for the period immediately surrounding the shock. Study of sexual assault memories would further understanding of intrusive re-experiencing, which is the hallmark of post-traumatic stress disorder from which victims of violence suffer.
Specific aims of the research plan are: (a) To determine whether rape memories are resistant to forgetting; (b) To compare rape memories with other flashbulb memories on characteristics including trace attributes, retrograde amnesia, enhanced detail, and the effects of rehearsal on memory intensity over time; (c) To examine recall data for evidence that rape memories are modified and interact with causal attributions regarding the rape event; (d) To predict post-rape adjustment by traumatic memory characteristics and social cognitions. Study One addresses aims a-b. This study involves 180 college women including a group of rape victims and two comparison samples (nonsexual assault victims and first-time sexual experiences, 30 per group), all of whom are within 12 weeks of the target experience occurrence. Participants will be questioned initially and again at one year about their memory for the target event and for a prototypical flashbulb memory-creating event (the October, 1989 earthquake). To control for measurement effects, three similar groups will be assessed a single time at one year subsequent to the target event. Dependent measures include rater-rated retention accuracy between pre- and post testing as well as self-rated memory characteristics obtained from a standardized memory questionnaire. Stud Two addresses aims c-d using both crosssectional and longitudinal data. Participants will be adult working women who have experienced completed rape. All rape victims identified by a mailed survey, regardless of time since rape, will be interviewed creating a cross-sectional sample of approximately 250 women. From these, 50 women who have experienced rape within three months will be followed longitudinally with testing at <3, 6, 12, 24, and 36 months subsequent to the assault. Measurement includes standardized tests of personality, memory characteristics, causal attributions, person perception, psychopathology, and social adjustment. Focus on the characteristics of traumatic sexual assault memories and the social cognitions linked with them has the potential to clarify some of the processes which foster re- experiencing of trauma and sustain long-term traumatic aftereffects of sexual assault.