People who experience violent incidents in their life and often recall them, even those that happened a decade earlier, may be at an increased risk of having short-term memory loss and poor cognitive control, a study has claimed.
According to researchers, a stronger short-term memory is positively associated with school attainment, job performance, and with lower probability of contracting Alzheimer’s disease and post-traumatic stress disorder. On the other hand, a weaker cognitive control among children can lead to problems with physical health, higher mortality rates, lower personal wealth and criminal offences 30 years later.
“Our results demonstrate that exposure to violence can have effects on cognitive functions. Besides, the obvious negative effects on the physical and psychological well-being, this may lead to vicious cycles: both poverty and violence hinder the ability to develop for a person or a group, which in turn may generate further poverty and violence,” said Pietro Ortoleva, Professor at Princeton University in New Jersey, US.
For the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the team asked participants to recall an event that occurred in the last year, which caused anxiety or fear, explicitly hinting at violence — including armed assault or witnessing murder. They were then asked to recall a sequence of geometrical figures to test short-term memory or their ability to store information after recalling such violent episodes. Those exposed to serious violence and recalled such an event performed poorly on this test, the researchers said.
In addition, the participants were also given numerical sequences in which a digit from one to four appeared one to four times and they were asked to state the number of times the digit appeared. The findings demonstrate the long-lasting effects of violence on cognition and memory recall and highlight the need for policies that provide proper therapy for those coping with violence.