Simon Fraser University

Children's Memory Research Group

Dr. Deborah Connolly, Ph.D, LL.B. Associate Professor (CV)      

The focus of my research is children’s autobiographical memory reports, particularly reports of repeated events. Children’s memory for repeated events is important both theoretically and practically and my research reflects both foci. Autobiographical memory is one of the first forms of memory to develop and continues to evolve throughout our lives. Often, when we think of autobiographical memory, we think about unique and exciting experiences. In fact, most of our autobiographical memory involves multiple experiences with familiar events. How this information is organized and what we can expect children to remember is a key theme for the Children’s Memory Lab. 

The practical importance of understanding children’s memory for repeated events is particularly acute in the forensic context. Unfortunately, child abuse is often a repeated event. If a criminal investigation is initiated, the child will likely be asked to report details of a particular episode or a subset of episodes of abuse. Our research is meant to support the prosecution of such crimes without compromising the fundamental right of accused persons to be presumed innocent. We strive to understand better the strengths and weaknesses of children’s memory for particular episodes from a series of similar episodes. We are similarly concerned with the perceived credibility of such reports. In legal settings, actual truth is not known, it is presumed from assessments of the believability of the allegation and the complainant, among other things.    

Recently, in criminal jurisdictions throughout the Common-law world there has been a dramatic increase in prosecutions involving child sexual abuse that is alleged to have occurred in the very distant past. This presents tremendous legal challenges that we are studying, primarily, through analyses of legal decisions.