People are woefully bad at recalling details of their own traumatic experiences. When military personnel were subjected to threatening behaviour during mock interrogations, most failed to identify the questioner a day or so later, and many even got the gender wrong.
The finding casts serious doubt on the reliability of victim testimonies in cases involving psychological trauma.
Numerous studies have questioned the accuracy of recall of traumatic events, but the research is often dismissed as artificial and not intense enough to simulate real-life trauma. Other studies have suggested that intense, personal experiences might produce near photographic recollection, something that prosecutors and juries in legal cases often assume.
But some researchers think this is an illusion. “People come away from these experiences feeling they will never forget what happened,” says Gary Wells, an expert on eyewitness testimony at Iowa State University in Ames, “but they confuse that with thinking they remember the details.”