According to the traumatic memory argument, traumatic experiences are processed and remembered in a fundamentally different way from other life events. To investigate the validity of this theory, 306 participants were asked to give detailed accounts of two life experiences: their most traumatic experience and their most positive emotional experience (counterbalanced). Participants also described the qualities of each memory and completed psychological scales measuring severity of trauma, personality, and dissociation.
Results indicated that traumatic memories differed from non-traumatic memories phenomenologically (e.g. vantage point) and qualitatively (e.g.number of details). However, the memories also showed important similarities (e.g.high degree of vividness). Only a small proportion (4.9%) of participants reported ‘recovering’ their traumatic memories after extended memory loss (most of whom reported consciously putting the experience out of awareness), and 2.6% reported forgetting their positive experiences for an extended period. Overall, traumatic memories were found to be ‘special’, but not in accordance with prominent fragmentation theories of trauma and memory.