top of page

Trauma, PTSD, and Memory Distortion

Our memories are not perfect reconstructions of the past. Instead, remembering a past event is a combination of processes, piecing together many separate details, and making inferences to fill in the gaps to create a coherent whole. Normally, these inferential processes serve us well, allowing us to make fast and accurate decisions about what we’ve seen and done. But no system based on inferences will be 100% accurate.

Our current drives, biases, stereotypes, and expectations can all affect that inferential process, fundamentally distorting what we ‘remember.’ While it might be easy to accept that our memories for mundane experiences can be distorted in such a way, people have long clung to the notion that traumatic memories are different, that they are protected from any kind of memory distortion.

In fact, converging evidence demonstrates that experiences of trauma, whether a single event (e.g., a sexual assault) or a sustained stressful experience that might involve multiple trauma types (e.g., experiences at war) are also vulnerable to memory distortion. In fact, traumatic memory distortion appears to follow a particular pattern: people tend to remember experiencing even more trauma than they actually did. This usually translates into greater severity of Post-traumatic

Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms over time, as the remembered trauma “grows.”

Featured Posts
View Past Posts
Search By Topic
bottom of page