CHASING MEMORIES OF TRAUMA FOLLOWING EARTHQUAKES IN CENTRAL ITALY

Alessandro Massazza photo 1

Alessandro Massazza (PhD, UCL Research Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology).

Co-supervised by Prof. Helene Joffe and Prof. Chris Brewin

 

We generally tend to struggle with remembering certain things in our day to day life, whether it is where we parked our car or the name of that person we have known for ages. However, following highly emotional events, some people might struggle with the opposite problem: remembering too well.

 

I am a first year PhD student in Psychology at UCL and my research is focusing on intrusive memories. These are very detailed and vivid memories of part(s) of a traumatic event that pop up unwanted in one’s mind. At times, the person can feel like they are reliving that moment all over again. This can be very distressing. In particular I am interested in exploring the reason why certain moments of a trauma later appear as intrusive memories whereas other moments do not. Contemporary cognitive theories of traumatic stress suggest that what happens at the time of the trauma, such as panic, dissociation, and freezing, might play an important role in the shaping of this peculiar type of memory. These reactions are called peri-traumatic responses.

 

Alessandro Massazza photo 3

The town of Amatrice following the earthquake

I decided to investigate this research question among a sample of survivors of a powerful earthquake that struck Central Italy on the 24th of August 2016 causing the death of 299 people and widespread damage. In particular I focused on the small town of Amatrice which suffered the greatest amount of human losses and was virtually razed to the ground. I collected 104 qualitative interviews on memories of the worst moments of the trauma and accompanying peri-traumatic phenomena, as well as 310 questionnaires. Overall, I collected detailed descriptions of 51 different intrusive memories. This will hopefully allow me to explore, both qualitatively and quantitatively, if something different happens in certain moments of the trauma that affects whether they later return as intrusive memories or not.

 

The support of the ESRC has been paramount in conducting this piece of research. I hope this work will contribute to shedding some light on the aetiology of this complex phenomenon and provide some answers to guide future prevention and management of this distressing symptom.