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Accuracy of Adult Recollections of Childhood Victimization: Part 1; Childhood Physical Abuse

NCJ Number
Psychological Assessment Volume: 8 Issue: 4 Dated: (1996) Pages: 412-421
C S Widom; R L Shepard
Date Published
10 pages

Using data from a study with prospective-cohorts design in which children who were physically abused, sexually abused, or neglected approximately 20 years ago were followed up, along with a matched control group, accuracy of adult recollections of childhood physical abuse was assessed.


Two-hour, in-person interviews were conducted in young adulthood with 1,196 of the original 1,575 participants. Two measures, including the Conflict Tactics Scale, were used to assess histories of childhood physical abuse. Results show good discriminant validity and predictive efficiency of the self- report measures, despite substantial underreporting by physically abused respondents. Tests of construct validity reveal shared method variance, with self-report measures predicting self- reported violence and official reports of physical abuse predicting arrests for violence. Few studies have addressed the accuracy of retrospective recall of childhood physical abuse; however, in studies that have examined these issues, the results show that there is a substantial group of individuals who do not remember the physical abuse or do not report it in the context of a questionnaire or interview. This study explored one possible explanation associated with the fact that some of these individuals might have been too young at the time of the abuse experience to remember it accurately. These analyses did not reveal differences in accuracy by age at the time of the abuse experience, using age 5 as a cutoff. Unfortunately, by its very nature, family violence occurs in private, and this makes documenting its occurrence problematic. The determination of the nature of the events often depends on the report of the victim, and there may or may not be physical evidence available. If possible, researchers should use multiple sources of information. Failing that, researchers must recognize that, similar to the biases associated with official reports of childhood abuse and neglect, self-reported childhood victimization may contain systematic biases. For Part 2, see NCJ-166614. 6 tables and 50 references

Date Published: January 1, 1996