What is post-traumatic stress disorder that occurs after a shock? What role does our memory play after trauma? Here is something to better understand our memory processes after a traumatic event.
How does a traumatic impact our memory? What are the memory processes that force us to relive an event that has traumatized us? The Memory Week organized by the B2V Observatory, which took place from 17 to 21 September in Montpellier, brought together more than 40 researchers, scientists, doctors, historians and philosophers, who came to present their work and discuss the very complex field of memory. At the end of several exhibitions, conferences and round tables, various subjects such as Alzheimer's disease, migratory memories, individual and collective memories, children's learning and, as discussed in this article, were discussed. the role of memory after trauma.
On Tuesday, September 18, the neuropsychologist Francis Eustache and the historian Denis Peschanski presented the first results of their research program launched after the attacks of November 13. This titanic and longitudinal project, which brings together 7 coordinated studies, aims to better understand post-traumatic stress disorder and the memory mechanisms associated with it. Because the healthy memory, as we are endowed with it, collects all our memories and generally represents our past, whereas the traumatic memory that occurs in people in post-traumatic stress is "frozen" in the past. time, punctuated by "intrusions" mental brutal that constantly make them relive the traumatic event.
Memory and Trauma Conference, presentation of the post-attack biomedical research study of November 13 (1000 people) @ ObsB2Vememoires #weekout #montpellier pic.twitter.com/ZSGhZ8XnWQ- Why Doctor (@Quick Doctor) September 18, 2018
Memory processes of post-traumatic stress disorder
"This memory disorder is the cardinal symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder," says Francis Eustache. "Traumatized people review images of the scene, remember noises or smells". These memories impose themselves on their minds and permanently bring back this past event, to the present. As if the scene was repeated again and again. "Prisoners" of these mental intrusions that make them relive the traumatic moment, some people tend to avoid anything that can remind them of this painful memory.
This "mania to inhibit" them, then encourages them to reorganize their lives, their daily lives and their habits. More specifically, a person with post-traumatic stress disorder can go so far as to make significant changes in their lives, so as to avoid anything that might remind them of the traumatic event. The researchers found, for example, that some witnesses or victims had changed jobs after the November 13 attacks. Others, who testified in the media, explained that they had not seen the person who accompanied them to the Bataclan that night again.
"The Remember study", directed by Francis Eustache, is precisely to study these mental intrusions and the capacity of these people to fight against them. In the long term, we concede, "all this research could perhaps contribute to the discovery of a treatment against the state of post-traumatic stress".
The role of collective memory
"The 1000 study", which consists of following the evolution of 1000 people affected by the attacks from November 13 to 2026, demonstrated that the collective memory (which contributes to shaping the identity of a group) also plays an important role in the process of memorializing an event. To explore its mechanisms, researchers divided participants into four distinct categories:
- Those directly exposed to the attacks (victims, witnesses, policemen, bereaved parents ...),
- The inhabitants and users of the targeted neighborhoods "who were subsequently exposed to the memorialization of these attacks with the presence of journalists, flowers and homage on the spot",
- The inhabitants of the suburbs and the suburbs,
- People living in Caen, Metz and Montpellier, so having been touched by far.
Among them are political figures such as François Hollande, at the time of the events President of the Republic, Bernard Cazeneuve, then Minister of the Interior or Anne Hidalgo.
After 1431 hours of interviews, the researchers found that the attacks over the last three years (2015, 2016 and 2017) are hierarchical in the collective memory, "the memory of Mr. All-the-world": the attacks of the 13 November are the most common attacks in the collective memory between 2016 and 2018. Specifically, 40% of French currently believe that these attacks are the most significant terrorist act since 2000, in front of the attacks of 11 September. By further refining the research, the researchers found that the Bataclan attack remains the most memorable event of the evening of November 13 in the collective memory.
Forgetting is part of the memory
Not that they are less important, but the study also highlights a "stall memorial" concerning the attacks of January 2015, which recall, had raised a national solidarity movement. According to Denis Peschanski, the fact that these attacks are perceived as less significant in 2018, is explained by the fact that forgetting is part of the memory. Over time, the brain naturally makes a selection and retains only what seems important or indispensable. The emotion felt and the personal relevance (if one is, or feels concerned) can drive this process of memory-forgetting.
"Our memory is powerful: it has the power to synthesize all the information we receive, it can not keep everything, it would be impossible, so it sort," explains Francis Eustache. "It's a kind of" game "between memory and forgetting, some events will take precedence over others, but they are not completely forgotten, because it is enough that something happens so that they go back" . In summary, we have a "strong memory and a weak memory".