Parent-child attachment security is associated with preschoolers' memory accuracy for emotional life events through sensitive parental reminiscing

J Exp Child Psychol. 2021 Apr 30;209:105168. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2021.105168. Online ahead of print.


There is considerable controversy regarding the accuracy and suggestibility of children's autobiographical memory for emotionally salient life events. Attachment perspectives of autobiographical memory development identify the attachment security of parent-child dyads and parents' emotional support and coherence during reminiscing with their children as critical mechanisms underlying children's memory accuracy and suggestibility. In the current investigation, 72 preschool-aged children (M = 4.01 years, SD = 0.85; 44 female) reminisced with their parents about times they felt happy, sad, scared, and angry. Children were then independently interviewed about these experiences by an unfamiliar researcher using free recall, specific questions (i.e., questions about factual details), and misleading questions (i.e., questions suggesting false details). Parents completed an assessment of their children's attachment security within the parent-child relationship. Results revealed significant indirect effects of parent-child attachment security on children's memory accuracy through parental sensitive guidance during reminiscing when cognitive (i.e., intelligence) and behavioral (i.e., temperament, behavior problems) covariates were statistically controlled. Parent-child attachment security was positively associated with parental sensitive guidance during reminiscing, which, in turn, was positively associated with the accuracy of children's independent reports. The findings support attachment perspectives of autobiographical memory by identifying emotionally sensitive and coherent reminiscing as a parenting behavior that explains in part associations between parent-child attachment security and children's independent memory accuracy for emotional life events.

Keywords: Attachment; Autobiographical memory; Parental reminiscing; Parent–child conversations; Sensitive guidance; Suggestibility.