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Questions of Credibility: Omissions, Discrepancies and Errors of Recall in the Testimony of Asylum Seekers

  • Freedom from Torture
Questions of Credibility:
Omissions, Discrepancies and Errors of
Recall in the Testimony of
Asylum Seekers
The issue of credibility is frequently raised in refusal notices and appeal
determinations dealing with the thousands of asylum seekers arriving in the
United Kingdom. The dierences between Immigration and Nationality
Department (IND) interviews, statements of claim and later statements
(if given) are commonly used as a basis for denial of credibility and
dismissal of claim. The evidence reviewed below challenges the validity
of using these dierences as grounds for denying credibility.
In the publication ‘Still No Reason At All’, produced by Asylum Aid,
many examples of such denial are quoted.
‘You claimed that your husband was taken by soldiers but in his asylum claim
he claims to have been taken by police.’
A Kurdish man who was questioned as to why he had told the interviewing
ocer that he left his country in June when he later said it was July — ‘I don’t
know, but I do know it was Summer.’
A Home Oce refusal letter states: ‘in the event a well-prepared statement seven
months after the asylum interview has little weight on his claim. Had Mr Z a
genuine fear of persecution he would have said so in his (first) interview.’
Ocials also tend to be sceptical about incidents described in later
interviews of which no mention was made in the first. In one such
MA, MB, BS, DipRACOG, MRCGP; Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture.
This article was first published in the Medico-Legal Journal, volume 69, Part 1, 2001, and is republished
with kind permission of the Editors.
‘Still no reason at all — Home Oce decisions on asylum claims,’ Asylum Aid. Asylum Aid,
London 1999.
International Journal of Refugee Law Vol. 13 No. 3
Oxford University Press 2002. All rights reserved
Juliet Cohen294
example where two rapes were later disclosed, the Home Oce response
was: ‘the late inclusion of such information is entirely at variance to your
previous interview and thus as a result reflects very unfavourably on your
veracity and credibility of your later statements’.
However, paragraph 199 of the UNHCR Handbook on Criteria for the
Determination of Refugee Status reminds decision-makers that ‘it may be
necessary for an examiner to clarify any apparent inconsistencies and to
resolve any contradictions in a further interview and find an explanation
for any misrepresentation or concealment of facts . . .’ Clearly this advice
is not always followed.
To test the assumption that memories are detailed, accurate and
consistent across successive reports this review examines the reliability of
ordinary people’s memory for autobiographical details. In addition, it
evaluates the particular medical and psychological conditions potentially
influencing memory from which asylum seekers may suer. It will be
shown that various conditions aect the accuracy of recall.
Recent research on memory, especially in the context of witness
statements and interview techniques, is highly relevant to this issue. The
present review also examines the evidence for the eects on memory of
the following factors: weight loss/malnutrition, minor traumatic brain
injury, raised stress hormone levels, post traumatic stress disorder, sleep
deprivation, depression, and pain. In the light of these studies the
assumption that discrepancies and omissions undermine credibility cannot
be justified. It is argued that there are alternative explanations for these
dierences that are at least equally likely and which must be ruled out
before testimony is disbelieved.
Current research on normal memory
We cannot observe the actual physical act of remembering but only
indirectly test its eciency. Hypotheses about memory have been widely
tested and a number of dierent models proposed to explain observed
phenomena of everyday memory. Certain core observations can be
explained reliably without exceptions. Around these are more contentious
areas, where specific variations and exceptions to particular models
can be demonstrated under experimental conditions. Much research is
concerned with identifying the factors that cause such variations. Both
the general principles of normal memory function, and the specific factors
that produce variability, are relevant when the accuracy of asylum seekers’
recall is being assessed.
Case 92, ‘Reviewing the asylum determination procedure — Part 1’, Refugee Legal Centre,
Questions of Credibility 295
Short term memory is thought to be able to store about seven items
for a few seconds only, until new incoming information displaces the old.
If the information does not then move into long term store it is lost.
Recall of long term memory depends on retention and retrieval. Memory
tends to deteriorate and so become less accurate with time. This is known
as the retention interval. As well as being retained, memories must be
able to be retrieved. Tulving (1972) suggested that at a given time only
a small proportion of all memories are available for retrieval.
For long term memory, visual, verbal and auditory information is
thought to be coded by meaning, and then linked to related information
and associations. Consequently what is recorded is not an accurate copy
of the data but an interpretation. What we remember is influenced by
what we already know. Details tend to be lost over time and become
generalised, sometimes merging with similar memories. Repeated
childhood holidays to the same beach will result in blurred and blended
memories. How do we then try to remember more about a particular
incident? A further level of processing is proposed in which longer
lasting memory is achieved by attaching meaning and significance to the
information. If little is attached, recall will be less easy. In our holiday
example, we can recall the year in which the dog was lost on the beach
by attaching other memories to that year such as the age of the dog, the
people present at the incident, the emotions experienced, and so on.
Memory is also inevitably influenced by higher cognitive interactions
with personality, mood and the perceived intentions of the interviewer.
Bartlett in 1932 introduced the idea of ‘schemata’ to explain the
observation that when people remember stories the recall is not accurate,
but people typically omit some details, and reconstruct the story in the
light of their own experience and knowledge.
He proposed that the story
is stored in memory in a pre-formed schema based on prior knowledge.
Recent research endorses this observation. In one study by List in 1986,
subjects were asked to view a video with eight dierent acts of shoplifting.
The acts that were rated as highly probable were remembered better
than those rated as less probable. Subjects also falsely ‘remembered’
some events that were highly probable but had not actually occurred.
Particularly with repeated experiences, information specific to one episode
tends to drop out while information common to other similar episodes is
incorporated into the general schema and retained. A kind of blended
memory is formed. It is thought that information is not stored in distinct
compartments and does not remain inert but is dynamic. However, if
Tulving, E., (1972), Episodic and Semantic Memory, New York Academic Press, 381–403.
Bartlett, F. C., (1932), Remembering, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
List, J. A., (1986), ‘Age and schematic dierences in reliability of eyewitness testimony’, Development
Psychology, 22:50–7.
Juliet Cohen296
the information is particularly unusual, distinctive or emotional in relation
to the general experience, it may be retained.
McIntyre and Craik (1987) showed memory for facts is better than
that for the source of those facts, so people retain the information but
are unable to say how they know it or where it came from.
They also
showed that memory for dates and times is notoriously unreliable, probably
because there are fewer links for this kind of information to other
knowledge. Yet date errors have been used to undermine credibility of
asylum seekers’ testimony, as in the example cited in the introduction.
Remembering and forgetting
Storage failure describes the case where the memory cannot be retrieved
and it is lost. Retrieval failure suggests that finding the right cues and
hints can result in successful recall. This is also known as cue-dependent
forgetting. ‘Blocks’ may persist for long periods to even trivial information.
‘Pop-up’ recall may occur later, spontaneously or in response to a dierent
Free recall is where open questions are asked and no cues given. In
cued recall closed questions containing suggestions as to the target
information are used. This may cause problems in that it may aect the
accuracy of the recall, provoking falsely ‘remembered’ details. On the
other hand it may also trigger far better and more detailed recall than
by open questions.
It has been shown that closed questions may cause shifting responses
under repeated questioning of child witnesses, while open-ended questions
do not impair accuracy. Gisli Gudjonnsen (1992) suggested that although
cued recall after free recall can elicit more full testimony, cues may
influence the recall and be misleading, amounting to post-event
To distinguish between such real/perceived memory and
suggested/confounding memory, Gudjonnsen recommends asking further
questions. ‘Real’ memories contain more sensory information such as
colours, size, shape and sound. ‘Suggested’ memories tended to be long
winded but lacking in vividness. These observations are further explored
in the paper by Schooler, Gerhard and Loftus (1986).
They confirmed
that ‘real’ memories contain more sensory and geographical detail and
are expressed with greater confidence. ‘Suggested’ memories are described
with more words, verbal ‘hedges’, justifications, rationalisations and
descriptions of function rather than actuality.
McIntyre, J. S. & F. I. M. Craik, (1987), ‘Adult age dierences for item and source information’,
Canadian Journal of Psychology, 41: 175–92.
Gudjonnsen, Gisli, (1992), The Psychology of Interrogations, Confessions and Testimony, Chichester: John
Wiley and Son.
Schooler, J. W., D. Gerhard & E. F. Loftus, (1986) ‘Qualities of the Unreal’, Journal of Experimental
Psychology, Learning, Memory and Cognition, Apr, 12 (2): 171–81.
Questions of Credibility 297
The eectiveness of cues in aiding recall has been used by the police
in the cognitive interview technique in which witnesses are encouraged
to remember as much detail as they can about an event, no matter how
irrelevant, as any detail may trigger further recall of more relevant
information. One of the obvious dierences between IND interview
technique and that of immigration law solicitors, as can be seen by
transcripts of the interviews, is just such a dierence in the relative use
of free and cued recall. In initial immigration department interviews
asylum seekers are invited to answer mainly closed questions with brief
details. In later statements to their solicitor, questions are more often
open and asylum seekers are encouraged to give as much detail as
Hypermnesia — Remembering more
Hypermnesia describes the observation that people remember more
details with repeated recalls. In 1987 Payne showed that this is a reliable
phenomenon even when the time between recalls of word lists is varied
or the nature of the material to be remembered is varied.
He also showed
that it is more common when subjects are asked to recall high imagery
material than low imagery material. Pictorial material produced
hypermnesia in 95 per cent of cases compared to verbal material in 50
per cent. This is thought to be because the more elaborate or complex
material can give rise to greater numbers of recall cues which then
increase the chances of recall over time. Black, Levine and Laulhere
(1999) demonstrated the phenomenon of hypermnesia in autobiographical
This occurs when individuals are seen to recall more
information over repeated sessions even after they thought they could recall
nothing further. Other workers have shown that personal autobiographical
memories are highly imaginatively recorded. Over time and repeated
recall, there may be a tendency to confabulate and produce more false
responses. Even when the material to be recalled is a videotape, for
example, of a crime,
there is an increase in error rate with repetition.
In Black, Levine and Laulhere’s study, the memory tested was for the
verdict of the O.J. Simpson trial.
The numbers of errors increased in
successive recalls cumulatively, although the ratio of errors to accurate
information did not change over time. This means that the increased
information recalled in subsequent interviews was not due to an increased
Payne, D. G., (1987), ‘Hypermnesia and Reminiscence in Recall: A Historical and Empirical
Review’, Psychological Bulletin, 1015–27.
Black, S., L. J. Levine & T. M. Laulhere, (1999), ‘Autobiographical Remembering and
Hypermnesia: A Comparison of Older and Younger Adults’, Psychology and Ageing, 14 (4): 671–82.
Scrivner, E. & M. A. Safer, (1988), ‘Eyewitnesses show hypermnesia for details about a violent
event’, Journal of Applied Psychology, 73: 1–77.
Above, n. 10.
Juliet Cohen298
error rate, and confabulation was not the reason for the hypermnesia. In
three interviews conducted within one hour the information recalled
increased between the first and second interviews. Between the second
and the third, although no new information was recalled, previously-
recalled information was ‘forgotten’ or omitted, so no overall increase
was shown. Their interpretation of this result is that autobiographical
memories are not traces that are retrieved and described, but are
reconstructed from event-specific knowledge. The exact form is guided
by the social and situational context in which they are recalled. Thus no
two reformulations can be identical.
Reproductive versus reconstructive memory
Memories that remain exactly the same each time they are recalled
appear to be reflecting a reproductive mechanism but memories that
vary are more likely to be generated by a reconstructive process. As long
ago as 1932 Bartlett observed that retold stories change with each
and more recently, a study by Anderson, Cohen and Taylor
(2000) confirmed the variability of autobiographical memory.
examined successive recalls of personal memories by older and young
adults and found that older adults’ memories had greater stability. The
memories of younger adults varied more in both content and output
order. It was also found that recent memories varied more than older
ones. This suggests a shift over time from dynamic reconstruction toward
a reproductive mechanism, whereby a memory becomes more fixed after
a long time has elapsed. In both age groups the second recall of a memory
produced an elaboration of the original version with less than 50 per
cent of the facts being identical and much new detail being added. There
were few verbatim repetitions, and dierences in phrasing suggested that
the recall is reconstructed from a non-verbal store. The fact that such
marked variability occurs in the recall of everyday experiences that are
not traumatic indicates that it is misguided to expect the successive recalls
of asylum seekers to be perfectly consistent. Although it was formerly
considered that so-called ‘flashbulb’ memories for dramatic events that
are highly important and emotionally charged remain fixed, this view
has been challenged by recent research which has shown that these
memories also show variability.
Above, n. 4.
Anderson, S. J, G. Cohen & S. Taylor, (2000), ‘Rewriting the past: some factors aecting the
variability of personal memories’, Applied Cognitive Psychology, 14: 435–54.
Christianson, S. A., (1989), ‘Flashbulb memories: special but not so special’, Memory and Cognition,
17 (4): 435–43; Neisser, U. & N. Harsch, (1992), ‘Phantom flashbulbs: false recollections of hearing
the news about Challenger’, in Winograd, E. & U. Neisser, eds., Aect and Accuracy in recall: Studies of
flashbulb memories, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Questions of Credibility 299
Anderson, Cohen and Taylor comment that there is a possible eect
of ‘demand characteristics’ of the task.
When people are asked to repeat
information they have already given they usually assume that the first
account is unsatisfactory in some way and may try to rectify this by
supplying more and dierent details.
Tversky and Marsh (2000) showed
that when people retell events they take dierent perspectives for dierent
audiences and purposes.
These observations are directly relevant to the
dierent settings in which asylum seekers give successive statements.
Eects of the experience being recalled
Memory stability is known to be aected by the nature of the event being
recalled and the level of associated emotion with it.
The accuracy of
recall of torture victims can be shown to be further influenced by a
number of special factors related to torture and its consequences. Studies
of victims of torture have established the most common symptoms suered
to be: depression, anxiety, emotional lability, disturbed sleep, nightmares,
impaired memory and concentration, headache, cardiovascular
symptoms, dyspepsia, joint and muscle pain.
These are described by
clinicians as diagnoses of post traumatic stress disorder, sleep disorder,
depression, anxiety state, post-concussion syndrome, chronic pain state
and others. Other symptoms and conditions may be directly related to
an individual’s particular history such as of significant weight loss —
discussed below — or a specific torture. For example repeated submersion
and other forms of suocation may cause cerebral hypoxia leading to
loss of consciousness, confusion, disorientation and memory impairment.
These eects may be transient or persistent depending on the extent of
hypoxic damage to the brain.
Emotional arousal and coping mechanisms
As Schactel (1947) defined it: ‘Memory as a function of the living
personality can be understood as a capacity for the organisation and
reconstruction of past experiences and impressions in the service of present
Above, n. 14.
Edwards, D. & J. Potter, (1992), ‘The Chancellor’s Memory: Rhetoric and truth in discursive
remembering’, Applied Cognitive Psychology 6: 187–215.
Tversky, B. & E. J. Marsh, (2000), ‘Biased retellings of events yield biased memories’, Cognitive
Psychology, 40(1): 1–38.
Wynn, V. E. & R. H. Logie, (1998), ‘The Veracity of Long-term Memories — Did Bartlett
get it right?’, Applied Cognitive Psychology, 12: 1–20.
See, for example, Petersen, H. D. & P. Jacobsen, (1985), ‘Psychical and physical symptoms
after torture: A prospective, controlled study’, Forensic Science International, 29 (3–4): 179–89; Hougen,
H. P., J. Kelstrup, H. D. Petersen & O. V. Rasmussen, (1988), ‘Sequelae to torture: A controlled
study of torture victims living in exile’, Forensic Science International, 36 (1–2): 153–60.
Norfolk, G. A., (1999), ‘Physical illnesses and their potential influence’, in Heaton-Armstrong,
A., E. Shepherd & D. Wolchover, eds. Analysing Witness Testimony, Blackstone Press Ltd., London,
Juliet Cohen300
fears, needs and interests.’
There is ample evidence that memory is
aected by the need to cope with emotional and traumatic experiences.
Allodi in 1991
and several others have demonstrated the upsetting
nature of torture recall and the eect of this on testimony. Christianson
and Loftus (1991) showed that increased arousal during an event led to
a concentration on certain detail with reduced recall of peripheral detail.
Open-ended questions and free recall led to the greatest distress and
limited reporting while neutral cues including reading from a list of
possible events produced better recall. The dierent eects of open versus
closed questioning on recall in the general population have already
been noted. Obviously, the particular eects are very dependent on the
circumstances of the interview, the time elapsed since the torture, and
the relationship with the interviewer. Mollica (1988) showed that the
interviewer’s own mental protective devices will be employed to resist the
negative eects of hearing about upsetting events. Often there is a fear
held by the interviewer that recall will trigger uncontrollable mental
distress for the interviewee. This leads on to feelings of inadequacy in
comforting the person and voyeurism in ‘forcing’ them to relive traumatic
There may be further complications due to the interpreter if
one is present. If interpreters are also torture victims, or closely involved
with such victims, they may close ocertain questions and answers or
give non-verbal cues discouraging elaboration of detail. The use of
checklists as an aid to free recall can be helpful in overcoming the barriers
of awkwardness and emotional distress, especially for experiences dicult
to accept or verbalise, such as sexual assault.
Events encoded during high levels of arousal have been shown to be
more dicult to retrieve, although they can be retrieved in time.
Weight loss and malnutrition
Sutker et al. (1986 and 1991) demonstrated that prolonged malnutrition
and weight loss can aect memory function.
This work was mainly on
Schactel, E. G., (1947), ‘On memory and childhood amnesia’, Psychiatry, 10: 1–26.
Allodi, F., (1991), ‘Assessment and treatment of torture victims: a critical review’, Journal of
Nervous and Mental Disease, 170 (1): 4–11.
Christianson, S. A, E. F. Loftus, H. Homan & G. R. Loftus, (1991), ‘Eye fixations and memory
for emotional events’, Journal of Experimental Psychology, Learning, Memory and Cognition,17(4): 693–70.
Mollica, R. F., (1988), ‘The trauma story: the psychiatric care of refugee survivors of violence
and torture’, in Ochberg, F. M., ed., Post traumatic therapy and victims of violence, Brunner/Mazel, New
Bradley, B. P. & A. D. Baddeley (1990), ‘Emotional factors in forgetting’, Psychological Medicine,
20(2): 351–5.
Sutker, P. B., D. K. Winstead, K. C. Goist, R. M. Malow, & A. N. Allain, (1986),
‘Psychopathology subtypes and symptom correlates among former prisoners of war’, Journal of
Psychopathology and Behavioural Assessment, 8:89–101; Sutker, P. B., D. K. Winstead, Z. H. Galina, &
A. N. Allain, (1991), ‘Cognitive deficits and psychopathology among former prisoners of war and
combat veterans of the Korean conflict’, American Journal of Psychiatry, 148(1): 67–72.
Questions of Credibility 301
prisoners of war and holocaust survivors from the Second World War,
but in medical terms is congruent with established knowledge on vitamin
deficiency disorders, especially the B vitamins. In patients on total
intravenous nutrition multivitamins must be included or deficiency
syndromes may rapidly ensue.
A condition known as Wernicke’s
encephalopathy can follow severe thiamine deficiency and memory and
cognitive deficits have been demonstrated in this condition, reversible
after treatment with thiamine. Elderly patients with low folic acid levels
had poor episodic recall.
At the other end of the life cycle, a randomised
controlled trial of treatment with micro-nutrient fortified biscuits carried
out with children from a poor rural area in South Africa,
showed a
distinct improvement after treatment, in both cognitive function and short
term memory. In torture victims subjected to prolonged detention a
history of available diet and estimations of weight loss would indicate the
possible presence of this eect.
Minor traumatic brain injury
‘Minor traumatic brain injury’ describes head injury of the kind that does
not involve prolonged loss of consciousness but may nevertheless have
significant eects on health and in particular on cognitive function and
memory. It is generally established that more major head injury has
similar, though more serious eects, but it is the consequences of minor
head injuries that have tended to be overlooked. Many victims of torture,
not surprisingly, are unable to clearly estimate periods of unconsciousness,
or to distinguish the cause between such other possibilities as vaso-vagal
inhibition (fainting) or suocation. However, a detailed history should be
able to elicit rough estimates of severity and frequency of head injury,
prolonged or brief loss of consciousness and symptoms noted afterwards
attributable to head injury (post-concussion syndrome). Such symptoms
include dizziness, drowsiness, double vision, headache and nausea in the
short term and persisting headache, dizziness, poor concentration, poor
memory, fatigue, irritability, anxiety, noise sensitivity and insomnia in
the longer term.
Clear-cut examples of retrograde and post-traumatic amnesia have
been accepted as influencing ability to give testimony.
Where the history
Hahn, J. S., W. Berquist, D. M. Alcorn, L. Chamberlain & D. Bass, (1998), ‘Wernicke
encephalopathy and beriberi during total parental nutrition attributable to multivitamin infusion
shortage’, Paediatrics, 10(1): E10.
Hassing, L., A. Wahlin, B. Winblad, & L. Beckman, (1999), ‘Further evidence on the eect of
vitamin B 12 and folate levels on episodic memory functioning: A population-based study of healthy
very old adults’, Biol. Psychiatry, 45(11): 1472–80.
Van Stuijvenberg, M. E, J. D. Kvalsvig, M. Faber, M. Kruger, D. G. Kenoyer & A. J. Benade,
(1999), ‘Eect of iron-, iodine-, and beta-carotene fortified biscuits on the micronutrient status of
primary school children: a randomised controlled trial’, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 69 (3):
Above, n. 21.
Juliet Cohen302
is less clear cut, there may still be eects on the brain from minor injury.
In 1999 Voller et al. published findings in a study of very minor traumatic
brain injury, defined as loss of consciousness less than 20 minutes with a
normal score on neurological examination.
They found significant
impairment of verbal memory persisted even after six weeks, together
with attention deficits and poor information processing. On MRI scan
25 per cent had positive findings of traumatic lesions to the brain. In a
review of post-concussion syndrome, Evans (1992) described the organic
nature of the syndrome as being well-documented in findings in neuro-
pathology, neuro-physiology, neuro-imaging and neuro-psychological
The principal sequelae are headache, psychological and somatic
complaints and cognitive impairment. Most resolve within three months
of injury, but a minority persist for months or even years. Risk factors
identified for such persistence include age over 40, lower socio-economic
level, female sex, alcohol abuse, prior head injury and multiple trauma.
The latter two categories at least would therefore potentially include
victims of torture.
Stress, arousal and cortisol
In both human and animal experiments, glucocorticoids such as cortisol
have been shown to regulate hippocampal mechanism in the brain and
so aect memory. This has also been observed in patients with Cushing’s
disease, in which excessive amounts of these hormones are produced
from the adrenal gland, and in patients requiring treatment with steroids
for conditions such as arthritis or asthma. Both are at risk of impaired
memory. Impaired memory and raised cortisol levels have also been
found in the elderly and in patients with depression. In an experiment
by Newcomer et al. (1999),
subjects were given four days treatment
with low dose cortisol, a glucocorticoid known to be produced when
under stress. Other subjects were given higher doses to simulate major
stress. The trial was conducted as a double blind, randomised, placebo
controlled study. Cognitive testing was done at intervals of day 0, day 1,
day 4 and day 10. Cortisol treatment at higher dose produced reversible
reduction in verbal declarative memory without eects on non-verbal
memory or attention. The levels of cortisol given were based on those
detected in the blood of those undergoing surgery, which provokes a
physiological stress response. The authors conclude that these results are
Voller, B., T. Benke, K. Benedetto, P. Schnider, E. Au& F. Aichner, (1999),
‘Neuropsychological, MRI and EEG findings after very mild traumatic brain injury’, Brain Injury
13(10): 821–27.
Evans, R. W., (1992), ‘The post concussion syndrome and the sequelae of mild injury’, Neurol.
Clin. 10(4): 815–47; also, Gfeller, J. D., J. T. Chibnall & P. N. Duckro, (1994), ‘Post concussion
symptoms and cognitive functioning in post traumatic headache patients’, Headache, 34(9): 503–7.
Newcomer, J. W., G. Selke, A. K. Melson, et al., (1999), ‘Decreased memory performance in
healthy humans induced by stress-level cortisol treatment’, Arch. General Psychiatry 56: 527–33.
Questions of Credibility 303
directly relevant to the interpretation of decreased memory performance
in humans under periods of extended stress due to the eect of raised
plasma cortisol on the memory encoding and retrieval processes. These
results were confirmed in a similar experiment by de Quervain et al.
Post traumatic stress disorder
It has been known since at least as far back as the First World War that
battle experiences can cause episodes of memory loss. Pelmanism, a
system of memory training exercises, was used with shell shocked patients
to improve their memory and concentration. In 1889, a French doctor,
Janet, was writing about amnesia for part or all of traumatic experiences.
Post traumatic stress disorder was defined after the Vietnam War, but it
essentially describes the symptoms that may develop in any victim or
witness of violent and terrifying traumatic experience. These symptoms
are characterised by distressing recall, nightmares, flashbacks, avoidance
behaviour, sleep disorder, irritability, hyper-arousal and social withdrawal.
According to the criteria for the diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder
they must persist for more than one month. Disturbances of memory and
concentration have been found in studies on prisoners of war from the
Second World War and the Korean War. Torrie in 1944 found that
immediately after a major campaign about 5 per cent of soldiers had no
memory at all of the events.
Other studies have shown dissociative
amnesia, which includes the inability to remember some aspects of the
trauma, occurs in large numbers of disaster victims: 29 per cent of
earthquake survivors, 57 per cent of ambush victims and 61 per cent of
tornado survivors.
Such dissociative processing complicates the capacity to communicate
the trauma. The memory may be wholly or partly organised on an
implicit or perceptual level, with no accompanying narrative about
what occurred. During provocation of traumatic memories under neuro-
imaging, an experiment showed decreased activation of Broca’s area, the
speech area of the brain. At the same time there was enhanced imaging
of the right hemisphere areas most associated with intense emotion and
visual images.
In 1992, Bremner et al. reported lower hippocampal volume in patients
with combat-related post traumatic stress disorder than in matched
De Quervain, D., B. Roozendaal, R. Nitsch, J. McGaugh & C. Hock, (2000), ‘Acute cortisone
administration impairs retrieval of long-term declarative memory in humans’, Nature Neuroscience 3(4):
Torrie, A., (1944), ‘Psychosomatic casualties in the Middle East’, Lancet, 29: 139–43.
Rauch, S., B. A. van der Kolk, R. Fisher et al., (1994), ‘PET imagery-positron emission scans
of traumatic imagery in PTSD patients’; paper presented at the annual meeting of the International
Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, Chicago, IL.
Juliet Cohen304
Interestingly, recent research on London cab drivers who are
required to memorise all the streets of the city shows that they have
increased hippocampal volume. In 1993, Bremner et al. showed that
Vietnam veterans with post traumatic stress disorder had lower scores on
both immediate and delayed recall on memory testing.
This links with
the evidence cited above that severe stress induces a cortisol release that
has a neurotoxic eect on the hippocampus, an important part of the
brain in memory storage mechanisms.
Numerous other studies illustrate the eects of post traumatic stress
disorder on memory. For example, Yehuda et al. (1995) found that
veterans with post traumatic stress disorder had a quite circumscribed
cognitive deficit aecting memory retention.
Jenkins et al. (1998) studied
rape victims with post traumatic stress disorder and found they had recall
deficits also.
There is relatively less published work specifically on victims of torture,
but in two reviews of a series of patients’ symptoms, impaired memory
and poor concentration are specifically cited as amongst the most common
In this case no formal diagnosis of post traumatic stress
disorder was made, although the other psychological symptoms listed in
these studies are essentially those of post traumatic stress disorder:
disturbed sleep, nightmares, emotional lability, anxiety and depression.
In one study almost 50 per cent of London asylum seekers presenting to
the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture were found
to have post traumatic stress disorder compared to an expected incidence
of 5–7 per cent in the normal population, using the internationally agreed
DSM-IV diagnostic criteria.
With specific reference to autobiographical memory, Harvey et al.
(1998) have studied both acute stress disorder, which can develop within
the first month after a traumatic experience, and post traumatic stress
disorder, in which symptoms persist for longer than one month.
found that patients with acute stress disorder reported fewer specific
memories of the trauma than did non-acute stress disorder patients.
Bremner, J. D., J. P. Seibyl, T. M. Scott et al., (1992), ‘Decreased hippocampal volume in
PTSD’ in New Research Program and Abstracts, 145
Annual meeting of the American Psychiatric
Association, Washington DC.
Bremner, J. D., T. M. Scott, R. C. Delaney et al., (1995), ‘Deficits in short term memory in
post traumatic stress disorder’, American Journal of Psychiatry, 150: 1015–19.
Yehuda, R., R. S. Keefe, P. D. Harvey, et al., (1995), ‘Learning and memory in combat
veterans with post traumatic stress disorder’, American Journal of Psychiatry, 152: 137–39.
Jenkins, M. A., P. J. Langlais, D. Delis & R. Cohen, (1998), ‘Learning and memory in rape
victims with post traumatic stress disorder’, American Journal of Psychiatry, 155: 278–79.
Above, n. 20.
Ramsay, R., C. Gorst-Unsworth & S. Turner, (1993), ‘Psychiatric morbidity in survivors or
organised state violence including torture’, British Journal of Psychiatry, 162: 55–59.
Harvey, A. G., R. A. Bryant & S. T. Deng, (1998), ‘Autobiographical memory in acute stress
disorder’, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 66(3): 500–506.
Questions of Credibility 305
Depression was found to play a significant role in the memory deficits of
acute stress disorder patients, but when this was controlled for, some
eect of acute stress disorder alone was still evident. Harvey also showed
that the presence of acute stress disorder was highly predictive of those
who would go on to develop post traumatic stress disorder. Seventy-eight
per cent of acute stress disorder patients had post traumatic stress disorder
at six months where the average expected number in the non-acute stress
disorder population is less than 30 per cent. The model postulated is thus
that high cortisol levels released at the time of maximum stress aect the
organisation of memories leading to disrupted retrieval processes, reduced
optimal recall of the traumatic memories and possible unwanted excessive
recall in the form of flashbacks, nightmares and persistent thoughts of
the trauma. Some therapeutic approaches to post traumatic stress disorder
reflect this model by working on the ‘processing’ of traumatic memories
in a way that reduces the associated distress and aims for integration of
the memories into ‘normal’ long-term storage.
Sleep loss
Sleep deprivation is a common form of torture. In addition, as quoted
above, torture survivors often suer from ongoing sleep disorder with
diculty falling and staying asleep and frequent nightmares. This may
be part of a diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder or may be present
without the rest of the syndrome. In a retrospective analysis of fifty
patients seen for any clinical problem at the Medical Foundation for the
Care of Victims of Torture, the author found 75 per cent to be gaining
4 or less hours sleep in 24.
Studies in sleep-deprived subjects have
shown impaired cognition and recall. Harrison and Home (1992) showed
impaired facial recognition in sleep deprived subjects even when given
Idzidowski in 1984 showed sleep deprivation impairs long-term
memory and other workers have shown a link specifically with the lack
of REM phase sleep.
Depression may be part of the post traumatic stress disorder spectrum
or made as a separate diagnosis in its own right. In the words of
Dietrich (2000), ‘one of the most frequent and neuro-psychologically well
investigated symptoms in depression is reduced memory capacity’.
Recent confirmation can be found in the work of Pelosi et al. (2000),
Cohen, J., unpublished report.
Harrison, Y. & J. A. Horne, (2000), ‘Sleep loss and temporal memory’, The Quarterly Journal of
Experimental Psychology, A 53(1): 271–279.
Idzidowski, C., (1984) ‘Sleep and memory’, British Journal of Psychology, 75(4): 439–449.
Dietrich, D.E., A. Kleinschmidt, U. Hauser et al., (2000), ‘Word recognition memory before
and after successful treatment of depression’, Pharmacopsychiatry, 33(3): 221–228.
Juliet Cohen306
who demonstrate that depressed patients had poor recall compared to
controls, and this became worse as the memory load increased.They
concluded that major depression significantly aects working memory.
Depressed patients with minor traumatic brain injury reported more
severe cognitive symptoms.
Autobiographical memory is known to be
aected by depression.
In the study on London asylum seekers, 30 per cent were found to
have depression, compared to 5–10 per cent of the normal population.
This study used the internationally agreed diagnostic criteria of DSM-IV.
Chronic pain
It can be very dicult to separate the eects of chronic pain from
depression as pain itself is such a potent trigger of depression. In addition,
pain patients often have very poor sleep. Iezzi et al. in 1999 studied the
neuro-cognitive performance of pain patients related to their emotional
They found that those highest in emotional distress experienced
most diculty in intellectual function, delayed recall and problem solving.
Schnurr and MacDonald (1995) tried to exclude the eects of depression
in their study of pain patients and found that dierences in memory
complaint were still greater than in controls.
Although pain patients
often themselves attribute their memory problems to their use of codeine
and other strong analgesics, there was no evidence of this in their study.
In victims of torture there is a combined incidence of chronic pain from
musculo-skeletal injury, sleep disorder, depression and emotional distress
which would be very dicult to study separately but clearly all of these
conditions can combine to produce similar eects on memory.
Assessment and quantification
How can all of the above conditions be quantified and documented? A
detailed history and examination by independent medical experts is the
simplest, and arguably the most important element. CT scans, bone
scintigraphy and other medical tests can provide further evidence for a
history of torture but are expensive and not necessarily conclusive. A
Pelosi. L., T. Slade, L. D. Blumhardt & V. K. Sharma, (2000), ‘Working memory dysfunction
in major depression; an event-related potential study’, Clinical Neurophysiology, 111(9); 1531–43.
Gfeller et al., above, n. 33.
Brittlebank, A. D., J. Scott, J. M. G. Williams & I. N. Ferrier, (1993), ‘Autobiographical memory
in depression: state or trait marker’, British Journal of Psychiatry, 162: 118–121; Kuyken, W. & C. R.
Brewin, (1995), ‘Autobiographical memory functioning in depression: reports of early abuse’, Journal
of Abnormal Psychology, 104: 585–591.
Ramsay, Gorst-Unsworth and Turner, above, n. 43.
Iezzi, T., Y. Archibald, P. Barnett, A. Klinck & M. Duckworth, (1999), ‘Neurocognitive
performance and emotional status in chronic pain patients’, Journal of Behavioural Medicine, 22(3):
Schnurr, R. F. & M. R. Macdonald, (1995), ‘Memory complaints in chronic pain’, Clinical
Journal of Pain, 11(2): 103–111.
Questions of Credibility 307
negative bone scintigraphy test does not mean no bone injury occurred.
Psychological assessments with batteries of questionnaires can give scores
for depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, short and long
term memory, trauma experience and chronic pain, but these tests are
by no means all internationally validated. There are also considerable
diculties in performing these tests through an interpreter if all questions
are not available in translation, as is generally the case. There is a
subjective element to many such questionnaires and day-to-day variation
in responses can be significant. It is dicult with the current state of
knowledge to determine if such assessments are in eect going to be more
useful than a general medical examination.
In assessing the credibility of asylum seekers what should we regard as
reasonable degrees of error or omission? In what numbers? Classes of
error may be categorised as: calendar errors, detail dierences from one
period of detention to another similar one, errors of definition or
translation, for example, soldiers/police/men and numbers of men present
during torture, telescoping and expansion of time-frames, omissions of
rape and other deeply traumatic incidents. It is possible some of these
can be explained by the potential for variability of true memories.
The observation of a lack of supporting detail, especially sensory and
geographical, for example, describing cell, food, and hygiene
arrangements, may indicate unprepared answers to an unforeseen
question. However, it may also simply indicate limitations in the interview
technique. An important element often neglected in written evidence is
the presence of visual cues for the interviewer including changes of
expression, gesture, body language indicating emotion and re-enactment
of posture during torture. Documentation of secondary symptoms, for
example, post traumatic stress disorder, sleep disorder, gastritis, shortness
of breath, palpitations, headaches, chronic back and joint pain and skin
irritation which are all well-recognised in victims of torture is also too
often neglected.
The earlier sections have demonstrated just how unusual it is if recall
is accurately reproduced and how common dierences in detail can be.
So is there any way in which variable statements can be said to aect
credibility or should the legal system be altering its approach?
Let us look at the treatment of witnesses in court. Acceptance of their
credibility can be crucial in establishing guilt or innocence and yet these
judgements may be made on what is all too probably an unproven and
unprovable supposition.
First comes the observation: ‘liars change their story’. This is supposedly
because a made-up story is harder to remember consistently than an
Juliet Cohen308
autobiographical event, or because when challenged, liars change details
to cover inconsistencies.
This leads to the hypothesis: ‘changes in a story indicate falsehood’, but this
is the converse of the observation and has never been conclusively proven
to be so. Just because cats like milk does not mean any creature drinking
milk must be a cat. In logic this is known as the ‘fallacy of converting
the proposition’.
Current research on memory shows that stories can change for many
reasons and such changes do not necessarily indicate that the narrator is
lying. In the real world, we know that the most rigidly reproduced
accounts may be so because they have been memorised from a script.
Conversely, those with certain discrepancies may be so because they have
been genuinely reconstructed from autobiographical memories. Yet we
encourage consistency in all testimony because it ‘keeps it simple’.
Motivation to be consistent is only present if the subject first knows that
consistency is valued above everything. If not, it is ‘accidental’ rather
than intended. In Britain we give witnesses their statements to read before
going into court, to ensure they are happy to swear to them on oath and
to make sure they do not then depart from the ‘established’ story.
Presumably this is based on the assumption that they are likely to do so.
This does not mean we are suggesting they lie, just that experience in the
courts has shown it is almost impossible to maintain absolute consistency,
especially if it is a long time since the events to be recalled. Yet this
latitude is not given to asylum seekers who are repeatedly judged and
found not credible on this very issue. This application of dual standards
is iniquitous.
There are strong grounds for arguing that lack of consistency per se
cannot be used to give any negative weight to the assessment of credibility.
In addition, it needs to be acknowledged that judgements about credibility
are extremely fallible. Schooler, Gerhard and Loftus (1986) tried to give
‘judges’ cues on dierentiating ‘real’ from ‘suggested’ memories.
were able to improve their scores from 50 per cent to a mere 60 per cent
success rate. This clearly still leaves enormous scope for error in such
judgements. The findings of this review have wider implications for any
witness evidence presented in court. In the case of asylum seekers,
especially, it is clear that great caution needs to be exercised in denying
credibility. The normal variability of memory is likely to be exacerbated
by the medical factors reviewed above and a general impairment of recall
is to be expected as a result of their traumatic experiences and physical
and mental state.
Further research would be invaluable in quantifying the degree of
memory impairment suered by asylum seekers with some of the medical
Above, n. 8.
Questions of Credibility 309
conditions reviewed above, and assessing the possible use of trauma scales
and other measurements.
On a practical level, standardising questions and formats of all interviews
would go some way to improving consistency. Increasing the detail of
medical histories with particular reference to the conditions discussed:
weight loss/malnutrition, head injury, post traumatic stress disorder, sleep
disorder, depression and chronic pain, would also aid in this dicult task
of assessing credibility.
In eect, however, this review concludes that credibility assessment by
the determination of accuracy and reproducibility of an asylum seekers’
recall is not a valid component of asylum decision making.
... Furthermore, as pointed out by a broad range of scholars, expecting an asylum seeker to remember and recount traumatizing or even banal events from their past consistently over long periods of time is simply not realistic (e.g. Cohen, 2001). Guidance, both in Australia and beyond, warns against expecting asylum seekers to be able to remember and recount perfectly in this way and also advises that different individuals may remember different details (e.g. in Australia, for reviews seen by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, see Administrative Appeals Tribunal (2015), paragraphs 29-31. ...
... The judge further noted the broader context in which the communication took place, "many years after the events which are described" (paragraph 32), thus acknowledging another reason -aligned with the existing psychology scholarship on asylum claims and recall (eg Cohen, 2001) -that expecting this level of precision was inappropriate. ...
Full-text available
Credibility assessments in asylum visa applications have attracted criticism across diverse research fields. This article builds on existing critical examinations by presenting a case study of a successful appeal in the Federal Court of Australia (FCA) which overturned a decision involving one such problematic credibility assessment. The article establishes that credibility assessments often rely on flawed language ideologies and reasoning that transform the asylum seeker into the sole participant responsible for the texts produced in institutional processes. As a contrast, it then explores the FCA decision, analysing the judge’s treatment of three different premises on which the lower-level rejection relied. It demonstrates how, when dealing with each of these premises, the judge’s approach aligns with sociolinguistic scholarship. The case study demonstrates the potential of sociolinguistic awareness to denaturalize the problematic ideologies underlying credibility assessments. However, the article equally acknowledges and discusses the systemic limitations on challenging credibility assessments, due to the narrow scope for judicial review, and the need for professional legal assistance to argue one’s case successfully. The article concludes that while credibility assessments serve to act as a powerful gatekeeping tool to support increasingly restrictive asylum policy, judicial receptiveness of sociolinguistic understandings of communication can sometimes provide an avenue for successful appeals. It thus provides a powerful example of the potential benefits of communicating sociolinguistic research to law students, legal practitioners and decision-makers.
... Kyse on ollut esimerkiksi siitä, että perheen lasten kertomukset eivät ole täysin vastanneet aikuisten antamaa, jonkin tapahtuman tai paikan yksityiskohtaa kokevaa, selvitystä. Puhuttelussa kerrotun epäjohdonmukaisuutta pidetään merkkinä epäuskottavuudesta, mikä antaa perusteen kielteiselle päätökselle (Cohen 2001;Rogers, Fox & Herlihy 2015). Hennan asiakkaat ovat saaneet kielteisiä päätöksiä, joita on perusteltu epäjohdonmukaisuudella. ...
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This book chapter Kehopositiivisuus . radikaalista yhteiskunnallisesta liikkeestä uusliberaalin terveyden tuottajaksi? (Body positivity: from a Radical Social Movement to Production of Neoliberal Health) explores neoliberal appropriation of the body positivity movement and thought in Finland.
... Herlihy & Turner, 2009). Drawing on empirical evidence from the criminal context, recent psychological research has investigated factors that interfere with asylum-seekers' disclosure, such as posttraumatic stress (Cohen, 2001), experiences of sexual violence (B€ ogner et al., 2007) and the limitations of human memory for normal and traumatic events (Herlihy et al., 2012;Memon, 2012). Other studies have focused on factors under the control of asylum authorities. ...
Full-text available
Religious persecution is a leading cause of global displacement. In the absence of supporting evidence, presenting a credible oral asylum claim based on religion is a difficult task for asylum-seekers. Asylum officials, in turn, face considerable challenges in evaluating the credibility of asylum-seekers' claims to determine their eligibility for refugee status. We reviewed 21 original manuscripts addressing credibility assessments of asylum claims based on religion. We focused on (a) interviewers' methods of eliciting a claim of religion; (b) their credibility assessments of particularly complex asylum claims, namely those based on religious conversion, unfamiliar religions, and non-belief; and (c) issues related to the presence of an interpreter. We found deviations in officials' assessment patterns from established knowledge in legal psychology and religious studies. Closer collaboration between asylum practitioners and researchers in these fields is needed to improve the validity and reliability of credibility assessments of asylum claims based on religion.
... The first strand has examined factors influencing how asylum-seekers present their claimsthat is, 'estimator variables' over which the asylum authority has no controlsuch as post-traumatic stress disorder (Rogers et al., 2015), experiences of sexual violence (Bögner et al., 2007), and the limits and variation of human memory (e.g. Cohen, 2001). The second strand has focused on parameters within the control of the asylum authority, or 'system variables'. ...
Full-text available
The number of people seeking asylum based on their sexual orientation is expected to continue increasing. Assessing the credibility of such claims to determine whether asylum-seekers meet the criteria for refugee status is a complex task for asylum officials. These assessments involve several psychological aspects, affecting applicants’ disclosure and asylum officials’ determinations. Here, we present a narrative literature review of 47 original manuscripts to analyze credibility assessments in asylum claims based on sexual orientation. We demonstrate that asylum officials often make assumptions regarding human sexuality, sexual identity formation and sexual behavior that are either partially or entirely unsupported by psychological research. These assumptions are problematic as they undermine the validity of the asylum process and put vulnerable individuals at risk of severe harm. The challenges are aggravated in the cross-cultural context of asylum determinations, where applicants from different countries may manifest their sexual orientation in ways that deviate from Western expectations. We discuss the implications of our review’s findings for psychological research and asylum practice.
... The first strand has examined factors influencing how asylum-seekers present their claimsthat is, 'estimator variables' over which the asylum authority has no controlsuch as post-traumatic stress disorder (Rogers et al., 2015), experiences of sexual violence (Bögner et al., 2007), and the limits and variation of human memory (e.g. Cohen, 2001). The second strand has focused on parameters within the control of the asylum authority, or 'system variables'. ...
... Shopping, work, or lectures are examples of every day repeated events (see Barsalou, 1988;Gioia & Poole, 1984;Neisser, 1988;Renoult et al., 2012); domestic violence or stalking are examples of repeated criminal offences (Sheridan et al., 2003;Stark, 2012); and industrial accidents are examples of incidents that often occur in the course of repeated events (Kelloway et al., 2004;MacLean et al., 2013). When people provide memory reports of single events on multiple occasions, credibility is often judged based on consistency (i.e., differences between reports are interpreted as indicators of low credibility; Brewer & Hupfeld, 2004;Cohen, 2001;Fisher et al., 2009;Granhag et al., 2005). Importantly, recall of instances that are similar to one another involves specific challenges to consistency due to the consequences of repeated experiences on memory: If remembering (instances of) repeated events is difficult, doing so consistently over time is an even tougher challenge. ...
In both casual conversations and interview settings, people may be required to provide details of instances that were similar to other experiences. When this happens repeatedly, consistency across reports is often taken as a proxy for credibility. However, processes of schema formation and interference due to similarity make recall and accurate source attribution of details to specific instances challenging. We investigated the accuracy and consistency of recall in these contexts in a re-analysis of five studies. Confusions of details were widespread (1) across instances—participants frequently attributed the origin of details to incorrect instances, but also (2) across repeated retrieval attempts—participants frequently changed parts of their reports. There was, however, a clear pattern of primacy and recency effects: Recall of the first and final instances was more accurate and consistent than recall of the middle instances. We discuss potential mechanisms underlying these effects as well as their practical implications.
... The right to remain in a state can be denied or revoked for a number of reasons, including criminality (Benslimane and Moffette 2019) and inaccurate information on immigration documents or in immigration testimony (Cameron 2018). Research findings can cast doubts on the credibility or veracity of the information provided in immigration claims or testimonies (Cohen 2001;Sweeney 2009;Kahn and Fábos 2017;Neylon 2019). In these contexts, researchers must be aware of the ethical risks that information we gather could jeopardize residency, migration status, and legal citizenship of the people with whom we work and their families, social networks, and communities. ...
Full-text available
Migration research poses particular ethical challenges because of legal precarity, the criminalization and politicization of migration, and power asymmetries. This paper analyzes these challenges in relation to the ethical principles of voluntary, informed consent; protection of personal information; and minimizing harm. It shows how migration researchers — including those outside of academia — have attempted to address these ethical issues in their work, including through the recent adoption of a Code of Ethics by the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration (IASFM). However, gaps remain, particularly in relation to the intersection of procedural and relational ethics; specific ethical considerations of big data and macrocomparative analyses; localized meanings of ethics; and oversight of researchers collecting information outside of institutional ethics boards.
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This study analyzes empirically how 236 German court decisions assess the credibility of asylum seekers’ accounts of their persecution. In their reasoning, the courts rely on generally accepted content-based credibility criteria, including consistency, level of detail, and timeliness of the claim. But they also rely on conduct-based criteria, which have been resoundingly discredited in the relevant scientific literature. Too rarely, the courts considered confounding factors such as cultural distance or interpreter mistakes. They need to be more aware of their duty to confront applicants with negative credibility criteria. Article 4 (5) Qualification Directive played no role whatsoever in the sample analyzed in this study, which can be explained by specifics of German asylum law. The human judgment that is required in the balancing of credibility criteria and confounding factors is problematic for its subjectivity but unavoidable. Attempts at replacing this human credibility assessment with seemingly objective technical means have led to arbitrary decisions and encroached gravely on applicants’ human rights. While the credibility assessment procedure employed in German courts is far from flawless, it can produce convincing decisions. It should be further refined and provided with safeguards to arrive at decisions that are as rational and objective as possible.
The aim of the current research was to replicate Van Veldhuizen, Horselenberg, Landstrom, et al.’s (2017) vignette study among novice Estonian police cadets to map their interviewing skills. Sixty‐one police cadets from the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences were asked to respond to one of four vignettes that contained fictitious asylum narratives. Two of the vignettes contained no evidence for the origin of the asylum seeker, and the other two contained no evidence for the claim of persecution. The cadets were asked to formulate five questions that would help them to assess the credibility of the applicant's claim. We coded the style, type, and content of the questions. Our analyses showed that, in line with best practice, the cadets mainly formulated open questions in an information‐gathering style. A thematic analysis revealed that when a claim about origin was assessed, cadets typically formulated questions about life in the country of origin, identity documents, and the flight to Europe. When assessing a persecution claim, in contrast, they mostly formulated case‐specific questions.
Refugees face difficult journeys to receiving countries. These journeys often include waiting periods in transit countries, as refugees plan and collect resources for the next leg of transit. Sociological theories of waiting suggest that longer sojourns in transit countries may hamper subsequent economic integration in receiving countries. However, studying the effect of journey duration on refugee economic integration is difficult due to data constraints and endogeneity issues. In this article, I leverage a natural experiment. For refugees who entered Switzerland through the European Refugee Relocation Program in 2016 and 2017, waiting periods for relocation from Greece and Italy varied quasi-randomly from three to 17 months. My analysis shows that longer waiting periods in European transit countries did not reduce subsequent labor market participation. However, female refugees who waited longer worked less after arrival than male refugees who had comparable waits. This gap is partially driven by a positive effect of wait times on labor market participation among male refugees. These conditional results have implications for understandings of asylum-seeker integration, the gendered risks and opportunities that arise during refugee journeys, and migration policy making.
Full-text available
The postconcussion syndrome refers to a large number of symptoms and signs that may occur alone or in combination following usually mild head injury. The most common complaints are headaches, dizziness, fatigue, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, loss of consciousness and memory, and noise sensitivity. Mild head injury is a major public health concern because the annual incidence is about 150 per 100,000 population, accounting for 75% or more of all head injuries. The postconcussion syndrome has been recognized for at least the last few hundred years and has been the subject of intense controversy for more than 100 years. The Hollywood head injury myth has been an important contributor to persisting skepticism and might be countered by educational efforts and counter-examples from boxing. The organicity of the postconcussion syndrome has now become well documented. Abnormalities following mild head injury have been reported in neuropathologic, neurophysiologic, neuroimaging, and neuropsychologic studies. There are multiple sequelae of mild head injury, including headaches of multiple types, cranial nerve symptoms and signs, psychologic and somatic complaints, and cognitive impairment. Rare sequelae include hematomas, seizures, transient global amnesia, tremor, and dystonia. Neuroimaging and physiologic and psychologic testing should be used judiciously based on the problems of the particular patient rather than in a cookbook fashion. Prognostic studies clearly substantiate the existence of a postconcussion syndrome. Manifestations of the postconcussion syndrome are common, with resolution in most patients by 3 to 6 months after the injury. Persistent symptoms and cognitive deficits are present in a distinct minority of patients for additional months or years. Risk factors for persisting sequelae include age over 40 years; lower educational, intellectual, and socioeconomic level; female gender; alcohol abuse; prior head injury; and multiple trauma. Although a small minority are malingerers, frauds, or have compensation neurosis, most patients have genuine complaints. Contrary to a popular perception, most patients with litigation or compensation claims are not cured by a verdict. Treatment is individualized depending on the specific complaints of the patient. Although a variety of medication and psychologic treatments are currently available, ongoing basic and clinical research of all aspects of mild head injury are crucial to provide more efficacious treatment in the future.
Full-text available
Two cognitive measures were used to assess 22 patients who met DSM-III-R criteria for major depressive disorder: the Autobiographical Memory (AM) test and the Dysfunctional Attitude Scale. They were followed up over seven months. Measurement of dysfunctional attitudes did not predict outcome at seven months. Overgeneral recall on the AM test at initial assessment, especially for emotionally positive memories, was highly correlated with failure to recover from depression and accounted for 33% of the variance in HRSD score at follow-up. Overgeneral recall of emotional memories did not change during follow-up. It is suggested that overgenerality is a trait marker indicating vulnerability to persistent depression.
Full-text available
The following study examined the association between neurocognitive performance and emotional status in chronic pain patients. Seventy-three chronic pain patients recruited consecutively from services in a general medical hospital completed a battery of 10 neurocognitive measures and the Symptom Checklist-90-Revised (SCL-90-R; a gross measure of emotional distress). Cluster analytic procedures were used to identify a three-cluster group solution based on the SCL-90-R. Results indicate that subjects highest in emotional distress experienced more neurocognitive difficulties in intellectual functioning, immediate and delayed recall of verbal and nonverbal material, abstract thinking and problem solving, and cognitive efficiency than subjects lowest in emotional distress. The differences in neurocognitive functioning among the three cluster groups were not confounded by any differences on a number of background variables. These results suggest that level of emotional distress is associated with difficulties in a range of neurocognitive domains and have implications for the assessment and management of chronic pain patients.
In clinical practice, patients with chronic pain frequently report problems with memory functioning. This issue, however, has received little attention in the scientific literature. The present study was designed to investigate this common problem and to stimulate research interest in this neglected and important area. Self-reported memory problems were investigated in two groups of chronic pain patients--patients with pain from acceleration-deceleration automobile accidents (n = 56) and patients with pain from various work accidents (n = 27)--and two control groups involving medical/dental (n = 24) and psychotherapy patients (n = 20). Private practice, chronic pain, rehabilitation psychology services. Our findings suggest that memory complaints are higher in patients with chronic pain than in medical/dental or psychotherapy patients. No differences were found between chronic pain groups. On more general measures of memory complaint, differences between pain patients and controls were attributed to the severity of patients' depression. On a questionnaire designed to be more specific to memory complaint in chronic pain patients, differences in memory complaint between pain patients and controls were found, even after the effects due to depression were statistically removed. Although pain patients often attribute their memory problems to codeine use and/or psychoactive medications, there was no support for this in the present study. Within the limitations of this study, these findings suggest that memory complaints may be related not only to depression but also to the presence of chronic pain. Further research in this area is needed.
The authors investigated the memory functioning of depressed women patients with and without a reported history of child physical or sexual abuse using J. M. G. Williams and K. Broadbent's (1986) Autobiographical Memory Test. Whereas latency to recall autobiographical memories was not related to reports of abuse, patients who reported childhood sexual abuse produced more overgeneral memories to positive and negative cues. In addition, patients reporting high levels of avoidance of spontaneous memories of childhood physical or sexual abuse in the past week retrieved more overgeneral memories to positive and negative cues.
To study working memory function in untreated major depression using a digit probe identification and matching task. Methods: We compared behavioural performance and event-related potentials during processing of the Sternberg working memory task in 14 depressed patients and 14 healthy matched control subjects. Patients made more mistakes than controls as the memory load was increased from one to 5 digits and had significantly slower reaction times at all levels of memory load. The patients' event-related potentials (ERPs) differed significantly from controls. Pathological changes were similar for auditory and visual presentation. Surface negative activity in the 157-210 ms section of the waveform was reduced for all levels of memory load, suggesting abnormal sensory/perceptual processing in the modality-specific association cortices, possibly due to a failure of selective attention mechanisms. In the 375-840 ms epoch, the patients' responses showed large amplitude sustained negative activity, maximal at Cz and a reduced late positive wave. The large prolonged negativity in the patients' ERPs suggests activation of additional neuronal assemblies than those normally participating in the task. This could reflect either compensatory mechanism or dysfunction of inhibitory systems. These changes were sensitive to memory load, suggesting that they reflect alterations of memory-related processes. This study provides objective evidence that major depression significantly affects working memory. The ERP changes in depression could be accounted for by dysfunction of the central executive control of working memory.
EEG findings after very mild traumatic brain injury
  • Mri Neuropsychological
Neuropsychological, MRI and EEG findings after very mild traumatic brain injury', Brain Injury 13(10): 821–27.
Autobiographical memory functioning in depression: reports of early abuse 52 Ramsay, Gorst-Unsworth and Turner, above, n. 43Neurocognitive performance and emotional status in chronic pain patients
  • Brewin
Brewin, (1995), 'Autobiographical memory functioning in depression: reports of early abuse', Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 104: 585–591. 52 Ramsay, Gorst-Unsworth and Turner, above, n. 43. 53 Iezzi, T., Y. Archibald, P. Barnett, A. Klinck & M. Duckworth, (1999), 'Neurocognitive performance and emotional status in chronic pain patients', Journal of Behavioural Medicine, 22(3): 205–16. 54 Schnurr, R. F. & M. R. Macdonald, (1995), 'Memory complaints in chronic pain', Clinical Journal of Pain, 11(2): 103–111.