To investigate the consistency of autobiographical memory of people seeking asylum, in light of the assumption that discrepancies in asylum seekers' accounts of persecution mean that they are fabricating their stories.
England, 1999 and 2000.
Community sample of 27 Kosovan and 12 Bosnian refugees.
Main outcome measures
Discrepancies in repeated descriptions of one traumatic and one non-traumatic event, including specific details, rated as central or peripheral to the event. Self report measures of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
Discrepancies between an individual's accounts were common. For participants with high levels of post-traumatic stress, the number of discrepancies increased with length of time between interviews. More discrepancies occurred in details peripheral to the account than in details that were central to the account.
The assumption that inconsistency of recall means that accounts have poor credibility is questionable. Discrepancies are likely to occur in repeated interviews. For refugees showing symptoms of high levels of post-traumatic stress, the length of the application process may also affect the number of discrepancies. Recall of details rated by the interviewee as peripheral to the account is more likely to be inconsistent than recall of details that are central to the account. Thus, such inconsistencies should not be relied on as indicating a lack of credibility.
What is already known on this topic
Discrepancies between accounts of an event are often used to judge the credibility of asylum seekers
What this study adds
Discrepancies arise between two accounts of the same event even when there is no reason for fabrication
Refugees with high levels of post-traumatic stress are more likely to give inconsistent accounts if they have a long time to wait between interviews
Interviewees are more likely to be inconsistent in details that they rate as peripheral to their experiences than details they consider to be central
Inconsistent recall does not necessarily imply that asylum seekers are fabricating their accounts