Victim memory and psychological response to repeated traumatic events

Miss Natali Dilevski1, Dr  Helen  Paterson1,2, Dr Celine van Golde1,2
1University Of Sydney, Camperdown, Australia, 2Sydney Institute of Criminology, Camperdown, Australia

Domestic violence often involves ongoing and multiple incidents of abuse by the same perpetrator. In legal proceedings, a victim’s testimony about the events is often used as a key piece of evidence. As such, a victim’s memory plays an important role in gathering accurate information about the events. While research investigating adults’ memory for repeated events is still in its infancy, the findings so far suggest that memory for repeated events is qualitatively different from single events, with some findings indicating that people find it difficult to distinguish between incidents that are similar in nature (such as in cases of domestic violence). Furthermore, how people respond to trauma (i.e., post-traumatic stress disorder; PTSD) can impact their memories, with findings indicating that people with PTSD tend to remember trauma events as fragmented, disorganised and lacking a coherent narrative. How this process plays out for repeated traumatic events is still unknown. Therefore, this talk will present a laboratory study that examined memory and psychological responding for repeated traumatic events. In the study, participants were exposed to either a single event or four related events over a four-week period. For each event, participants imagined a hypothetical relationship scenario that consisted of either a domestic violence encounter or a closely matched neutral relationship encounter. After being exposed to the event(s), participants returned a week later to complete a memory test of the event(s) and questionnaires assessing their psychological responses (i.e., post-traumatic stress symptoms). Findings will be discussed in light of theoretical and practical implications.


Natali Dilevski is currently completing a PhD in forensic psychology at the University of Sydney. Her PhD is addressing two main research questions: 1) how do victims remember ongoing and repeated traumatic events (such as domestic violence) and 2) how do trauma responses (such as post-traumatic stress disorder) impact memory and psychological wellbeing. Prior to starting her PhD, Natali worked as a research assistant in the area of cognitive science at the University of Sydney and University of New South Wales.


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