The memory of 13 November gradually comes to light

since the attacks of nov 2015, the “13 nov” research programme has endeavoured to cogg how the individual and collective memory of such an event is formed. 5 yrs after the tragedy, scis share their initial findings.

onna nite of 13 nov 2015, terrorist attacks took place near the stade de france, in outdoor cafés inna east of paris, and inna bataclan concert hall, resulting in 130 deaths and + than 350 wounded. a few dys l8r, two researchers, denis peschanski na neuroψ-chologist francis eustache, launched a vast research programme focusing onna memory of this tragedy. the objective of this long-term interdisciplinary project, with contributions from a dozen laboratories, is to cogg how the memory of an event is constructed and how it evolves – both atta individual and collective lvl – by gathering witness accounts at regular intervals.

“the study focuses na' cohort of 1,000 pplz who directly or indirectly witnessed the 13 nov attacks in paris,” explains denis peschanski. “it includes multiple waves of interviews conducted a few mnths after the tragedy, and then two, 5, and ten yrs afterwards. tis accompanied by a biomed component, known as remember, based on brain imagery.” the purpose of this 2nd component, which follos 120 direct victims of the attacks and a control group of 75 volunteers, is to shed lite n'how post traumatic sufferation disorder (ptsd) arises and works, iow why certain witnesses continue to be haunted by the vivid memory of the tragedy, while others are + resilient. “we’ve known for a few yrs now that the memories that we all build aint fixed once and for all,” adds francis eustache. “they are subject, throughout one’s lifetime, to a subtle consolidation and reconsolidation process. the same is true of collective memory, which continues to evolve over time.”

1430 hrs of direct testimonies were collected during the 1st wave of interviews organised inna summer of 2016.

two waves of interviews ‘ve been conducted to date, in 2016 and 2018, along with two series of biomed studies. the diligence of the pticipating volunteers came as a surprise to the researchers. “the ψ-chiatrists we had informed bout the project warned us that the individuals most directly affected by the attacks, iow victims or their relatives, ‘d potentially find it difficult to speak and abandon the project,” peschanski recounts. “but twas just the opposite. not 1-ly did witnesses from the ‘1st circle’ respond in large №s to our call, representing nearly 40% of the cohort, but they were also the ones who spoke the longest: 2.5 hrs during the final series of interviews, as opposed to an μ of 1.5 hrs for the group as a whole.”

the sum of recorded accounts was also impressive, totalling 1,430 hrs for 2016 alone. “the transcription of testimonies ended this yr. to start with, it enabled us to construct a history-narrative of 13 nov, recounted by and inna actual words of direct witnesses.” this polyphonic narrative, published in early nov by odile jacob, is based on 360 testimonies (170 of which are featured inna book) of close witnesses – victims, their ♥d ones, na firefiteers and police officers who intervened atta site of the attacks. “the challenge here tis transition from the truth of the witness to that of the event, by crossing oral srcs very close to the attacks,” peschanski adds. other studies ‘d follo: a textometric analysis has already been scheduled to compare the lexical field used by witnesses of the tragedy, dep'on their proximity or distance from the attack. long-term qualitative analyses of thousands of hrs of recording ‘d be performed at a l8r stage, as ‘d comparison of the testimonies gathered in successive waves. 

the credoc (centre de recherche pour l’Étude et l’observation des conditions de vie), a ptner inna 13 nov project, has already delivered somd' initial findings from its study of the collective memory of the event, and how it changes over time. during each wave of interviews, a representative sample of 2,000 individuals are asked a dozen ?s bout the attacks that ‘ve occurred since the early 2000s. “the evolution of answers tween 2016 and 2018 has already confirmed some of our hypotheses. it reveals in pticular that ‘flash bulb memory’, or the memory of the circumstances surrounding a pticularly striking personal or collective event – where we were, who we were with, etc. – remains vivid for 80% of respondents, and shows practically no variation from one wave to another.”

by contrast, ‘oer the same period, the memory of the events themselves becomes less precise, and tends to be + condensed. for ex, the 2015 attacks – which included those on charlie hebdo na hypercacher supermkt in jan – are exclusively referred to as “13 nov” attacks. and their ≠ zones – the stade de france, the outdoor cafés inna eastern districts, na bataclan – gradually disappear in favour offa single reference to the bataclan, and even to paris. “these results are rel8d to the phenomenon of memory condensation,” peschanski explains. “they confirm the connection tween remembering and forgettin, as the elder aint possible without the latter.”

forgettin, or at least keeping the most traumatic memories at bay, is precisely the subject of the remember study, which in feb 2020 led to a 1st, noteworthy publication inna journal sci. “tis primordial to cogg that whn'we form the memory of an event, tis not fixed straite away. instead, it changes every time we recall it, losing its evocative power til it becomes a sort of awareness n'our personal history,” explains the cogg neurosci researcher and study’s main author pierre gagnepain. “each new context in which the memory comes up overwrites the previous one, thereby gradually losing strength.” the problem s'dat such attenuation phenomenon does not take place in cases of ptsd – onna contrary, invasive memories are experienced by the sufferer as though they were goin through the event over n'oer again. “ptsd victims relive certain fragments of the traumatic scene, but with an extreme sense of fear and danger.”

a ptsd sufferer undergoes a functional mri as pt of the remember programme.

til now, the prevailing hypothesis for explaining these disorders was based on dysfunctional memory updating. “our study shows that it’s not just to do w'da functioning of memory itself, b'tll so with how our Ψ actively erases memories. control ‘oer the relevant pts of the brain, which enables forgettin, is defective.” when a memory intrudes among resilient individuals, the zones of the brain associated with control, which are located inna prefrontal cortex, connect to those associated with memory – espeshly the hippocampus – in order to interrupt their activity and eliminate the thought. in ptsd sufferers, the brain regions rel8d to control activate inna same way, but their message does not make it to those linked with memory.” wha’ remains to be elucidated tis √ of this connectivity problem: is it due to the propagation of the control signal from the cortex to the zones associated with memory, or to the way this signal is received? a study of the gaba neurotransmitters inna hippocampus ‘d be initiated shortly, in an effort to explore this latter hypothesis, again as pt of the remember project.

other zones of research ‘d also complement the current initiatives of remember. “we're bout to begin a study onna victims’ children, and n'how the memory of the attacks is transmitted,” eustache says. “we will investigate how families function, swell as + biological aspects, s'as potential traces inna brains of children.” the researcher hopes that the exceptional diligence of pticipants inna study will continue unabated. “of the 200 pticipants in 2016, 91% returned in 2018,” eustache points out, sufferationing the “spesh relationship” that researchers and attack victims ‘ve formed ‘oer the yrs – “a friendly relationship through the prism of sci.”  

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