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Discrepancies in autobiographical memories: Informing the asylum seeking process

Herlihy, Jane; (2000) Discrepancies in autobiographical memories: Informing the asylum seeking process. Doctoral thesis (D.Clin.Psy), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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moments of the traumatic experience (e.g. van der Kolk, 1996a). Similarly, 'flashbulb memories' may be retained of major news events (Larsen, 1992). High emotion has also been shown to cause a preferential recall of central, key events of a narrative, with an associated difficulty in recalling peripheral details of the same narrative (Christianson, 1992). However, laboratory testing shows a robust effect of inconsistency over time: most people remember different details if tested more than once (Roediger, McDermott, & Goff, 1997). Very few studies have investigated the processes involved in the inconsistency of recall in applied settings. The effects of traumatic experience on memory processing is critical to many of the refugees who claim asylum in this country (Turner 1996). By definition, refugees have undergone life-threatening experiences - many in situations of war or torture, and a number of surveys have shown high levels of anxiety disorders in this population (eg. Silove, Sinnerbrink, Field, Manicavasagar, & Steel, 1997). The process of seeking asylum in this country is dependent on the individual giving an accurate and consistent account of her experiences. If such an individual is interviewed more than once, when submitting an appeal, for example, she may be rejected if there are discrepancies between the two accounts. The discrepancies are seen as detrimental to the credibility of the claimant. The current study aims to replicate a part of the asylum process and investigate relationships between trauma and the consistency of recall. Participants were interviewed twice - on each occasion they were asked to recall a traumatic event and a happy event, and a standard set of details were elicited for each one. They were asked to rate each detail as central to their experience, or peripheral. This was repeated at the second interview, with the exception of the ratings. Participants also completed measures of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (Foa, Cashman, Jaycox, & Perry, 1997), Depression (BDI : Beck, 1967), Dissociation (DES-8: Waller, Putnam, & Carlson, 1996) and Overgeneral Memory (ABMT: Williams & Dritschel, 1988). The number of discrepancies was counted for each participant. Discrepancies are defined as details which contradict each other, whether within the same account, or between the first and second accounts. Significant new information, added at the second interview, was also added to the discrepancy count. This mirrors Immigration Office procedures (Home Office, 1998). These counts were second-rated by a trainee immigration lawyer to provide reliability data and an informal indication of validity. There were discrepancies between individuals' first and second accounts. Quantitative analyses showed that discrepancies were associated with the length of the delay between interviews and with the severity of PTSD symptomatology. Discrepancies were more likely in details rated as peripheral than central details. The findings of the overgeneral memory literature were partially replicated in this sample: higher levels of depressive symptomatology were associated with more overgeneral memory. The findings are considered in the light of current theoretical approaches to memory, and implications for the asylum process are outlined. It would seem that the assumption that genuine asylum seekers' memories are consistent may be an invalid basis for immigration decisions.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: D.Clin.Psy
Title: Discrepancies in autobiographical memories: Informing the asylum seeking process
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
Keywords: Psychology; Asylum seekers; Trauma
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10098583
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