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Memories of traumatic events among swedish police officers
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology.
2005 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Police officers run a risk of exposure to extremely stressful and traumatic situations in their work. Such situations may involve anything from being the first to arrive at the scene of a traffic accident to investigations of brutal murders or acute threat situations in which they themselves are forced to use force. The main purpose of this thesis was to study police officers' memory for emotional events. One aim of this thesis was to investigate situations perceived as stressful by Swedish police officers and to look at the support and help they received in relation to these situations. One focus in this research is on how we remember an emotional event and how ratings of reactions and symptoms develop over time. Another question raised is: ”Do police officers remember emotional events differently than people in general?” Given that police officers often deal with highly emotional events in their occupation, their experience may improve their accuracy in remembering such events. Study 1 explored whether police personnel were more correct in their observations of a simulated violent crime than were civilians. Results showed that police officers were more accurate in remembering details of the crime than were police recruits, civilian students and teachers. Police officers' greater ability to sort out and analyze information from a crime-relevant situation may be based on their professional knowledge and experience of violent crime. Study 2 compared experienced police officers and civilians with respect to memory performance and intergroup biases in a witness situation. The results showed that police officers remembered the perpetrator and his weapon more accurately than did civilians. Moreover, in their evaluation of an immigrant and a Swedish perpetrator, police officers were less ethnocentric than were civilians. Study 3 investigated situations perceived as stressful by Swedish police officers and looked at the kind of support and help they received in relation to these situations. Results showed that most of the traumatic experiences reported by police officers occurred early on in their careers. The traumatic experiences often remained in their memories in the form of visual, tactile and olfactory sensations. A variety of stress reactions were described in connection with these experiences, such as inability to talk about the situation, muscle tremors, nausea, denial, flashbacks, etc. As regards ways of working through traumatic experiences, more than half reported that it helped them to talk about the event with their colleagues. A notable finding of this study is that the majority of officers did not receive any support at all from their superiors in connection with the event. In Study 4, police officers involved in a mass shooting resulting in seven dead civilians were asked to describe the event 10 months after the event, five years after the event and again nine years after the event. All police officers in this study reported having vivid memories of the mass shooting incident, and visual and auditory memories of the event were best retained, although a decline was observed nine years after the incident. Regarding working through the traumatic experience, the police officers had not been offered professional help in connection with the mass shooting incident.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Psykologiska institutionen , 2005. , 85 p.
Keyword [en]
Trauma, Memory, Police officers, Eyewitnesses
National Category
Psychology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-493ISBN: 91-7155-079-8 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-493DiVA: diva2:194618
Public defence
2005-05-27, David Magnussonsalen (U31), hus 8, Frescati hagväg 8, Stockholm, 10:00
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2005-05-04 Created: 2005-05-04Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Police personnel as eyewitnesses to a violent crime
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Police personnel as eyewitnesses to a violent crime
1998 In: Legal and Criminological Psychology, no 3, 59-72 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-23810 (URN)
Note
Part of urn:nbn:se:su:diva-493Available from: 2005-05-04 Created: 2005-05-04Bibliographically approved
2. Police Officers and Civilians as Witnesses: Intergroup Biases and Memory Performance
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Police Officers and Civilians as Witnesses: Intergroup Biases and Memory Performance
1997 In: Applied Cognitive Psychology, ISSN 0888-4080, Vol. 11, no 5, 431-444 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-23811 (URN)
Note
Part of urn:nbn:se:su:diva-493Available from: 2005-05-04 Created: 2005-05-04Bibliographically approved
3. The phenomenology of traumatic experiences in police work
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The phenomenology of traumatic experiences in police work
2003 In: Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, ISSN 1363-951X, Vol. 26, no 3, 419-438 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-23812 (URN)
Note
Part of urn:nbn:se:su:diva-493Available from: 2005-05-04 Created: 2005-05-04Bibliographically approved
4. Police officers' reactions to and memories of a mass shooting incident
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Police officers' reactions to and memories of a mass shooting incident
Manuscript (Other academic)
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-23813 (URN)
Note
Part of urn:nbn:se:su:diva-493Available from: 2005-05-04 Created: 2005-05-04 Last updated: 2010-01-13Bibliographically approved

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