You can't trust a tortured brain: Neuroscience discredits coercive interrogation

Sep 21, 2009

According to a new review of neuroscientific research, coercive interrogation techniques used during the Bush administration to extract information from terrorist suspects are likely to have been unsuccessful and may have had many unintended negative effects on the suspect's memory and brain functions. A new article, published by Cell Press on September 21st in the journal, Trends in Cognitive Science, reviews scientific evidence demonstrating that repeated and extreme stress and anxiety have a detrimental influence on brain functions related to memory.

Memos released by the US Department of Justice in April of 2009 detailing coercive interrogation techniques suggest that prolonged periods of shock, stress, anxiety, disorientation and lack of control are more effective than standard interrogatory techniques in making subjects reveal truthful information from memory. "This is based on the assumption that subjects will be motivated to reveal veridical information to end interrogation, and that extreme stress, shock and anxiety do not impact memory" says review author, Professor Shane O'Mara from the Institute of Neuroscience at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. "However, this model of the impact of extreme stress on memory and the brain is utterly unsupported by scientific evidence."

Psychological studies suggest that during extreme stress and , the captive will be conditioned to associate speaking with periods of safety. For the captor, when the captive speaks, the objective of gaining information will have been obtained and there will be relief from the unsavory task of administering these conditions of stress. Therefore, it is difficult or impossible to determine during the interrogation whether the captive is revealing truthful information or just talking to escape the torture. Research has also shown that extreme stress has a deleterious effect on the frontal lobe and is associated with the production of .

Neurochemical studies have revealed that the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, brain regions integral to the process of memory, are rich in receptors for hormones that are activated by stress and sleep deprivation and which have been shown to have deleterious effects on memory. "To briefly summarize a vast, complex literature, prolonged and extreme stress inhibits the biological processes believed to support memory in the brain," says O'Mara. "For example, studies of extreme stress with Special Forces Soldiers have found that recall of previously-learned information was impaired after stress occurred." Waterboarding in particular is an extreme stressor and has the potential to elicit widespread stress-induced changes in the brain.

"Given our current cognitive neurobiological knowledge, it is unlikely that coercive interrogations involving extreme stress will facilitate release of truthful information from long term memory," concludes Professor O'Mara. "On the contrary, these techniques cause severe, repeated and prolonged , which compromises brain tissue supporting both and decision making."

More information: O'Mara et al.: "Torturing the : On the folk psychology and folk neurobiology motivating 'enhanced and coercive interrogation techniques.'" Trends in Cognitive Science

Source: Cell Press (news : web)

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User comments : 12

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BigTone
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 21, 2009
Suspiciously timed study - also seemed a little too targeted with specifics such as waterboarding. Thought it was well known that intelligence gleaned from coercion is unreliable - but if the suspect is not talking at all - what should the captors do?

Strange the hypocrisy between death and torture - the American public is fine with assassinating leaders of terrorist organizations or blowing up their friends and family with a missile... But hey - causing anxiety if they were to be captured is way out of line...
marjon
1.7 / 5 (6) Sep 21, 2009
It apparently worked well enough to keep more people from being murdered.

Maybe they should evaluate some of those detained at GITMO and see how their brains handle stress.
frajo
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 21, 2009
The hypocrisy lies in the ethical implications of the acknowledgement of human "collateral damages", i.e. innnocent victims.
frajo
3.7 / 5 (6) Sep 21, 2009
It apparently worked well enough to keep more people from being murdered.

A typical non-falsifiable statement.
freethinking
1 / 5 (7) Sep 21, 2009
Anything that comes out of psychology needs to be viewed with suspicion, as most physiologists are very left leaning, and anything they can say that will hurt conservatives they will say, anything against liberal causes they will bury.

Dont believe me, find one article, or study from physiologists that portrays conservatives or Christians in a positive light.
brant
Sep 21, 2009
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axemaster
2 / 5 (4) Sep 22, 2009
"Anything that comes out of psychology needs to be viewed with suspicion, as most physiologists are very left leaning, and anything they can say that will hurt conservatives they will say, anything against liberal causes they will bury."

Isn't it interesting how educated people tend to be more liberal? I wonder why that is... Hmm...
mechengineer
4 / 5 (4) Sep 22, 2009
Some of these commments are seriously daft. "We havent been attacked yet, so torture works" is indeed a non-falsifiable statement. I could say that the President has prevented alien invasions and it too would be non-falsifiable because there is nothing to say otherwise.

In fact, that is what Dick Cheney did, and he was called out on it. Do you know what he did? He basically told the interviewer to shut up.

Now, scientifically speaking, it is OBVIOUS that stress induces a change in the state of the brain. Torture produces stress, which changes the state of the brain. State of mind affects memory recall and false memories.

Where in that statement do you see a liberal bias? Are you so antagonized by this that you are willing to disavow plain logic?

There are no such thing as liberal or conservative facts, people. If that distinction is so ingrained, then I can only pray that China doesnt over take the United States in scientific output.
freethinking
1.8 / 5 (5) Sep 22, 2009
The more people are educated in the humanities the more liberal they become. If they are educated as doctors or engineers or scientists they stay or become more conservatives. Why is that? My guess is that most people who are drawn to the humanities are trying to find themselves or their place in the world. While engineers, doctors, and scientists are generally well rounded and secure in themselves.

I just dropped my daughter off at university it was interesting as she is going into chemistry. The people in the hard (real) science and engineering are generally clean cut if a bit geeky looking, very well spoken, very well focused in what they want to do. The humanities people, rings coming out of every part of their body, sloppy dressed, not very well read. Asked why they are in university they responded ... trying to figure out what to do...
freethinking
1 / 5 (5) Sep 22, 2009
In addition... I have a brother who has been in university for close to 20 years... liberal as get go.... still lives at home.. still aimless... but hey he is more educated than I am.

Most people who go into phyiocology go into it to figure their own problems out. The problem arisses when these disfunctional people start making the rules, start telling normal people what to do. Its the crazies telling the sane how to act.

Now I agree there is no such thing as liberal fact or conservative facts. But there are such things as not telling the truth, one sided reporting, not reporting on the full information, stacking the decks, predetermining the outcomes.

Most things coming out of physiocology these days falls into all of the above. If you dont believe it, you need to read the studies deeper instead of just believing them.
brant
3 / 5 (2) Sep 22, 2009
From Washington's Blog.

" * Army Field Manual 34-52 Chapter 1 says:

"Experience indicates that the use of force is not necessary to gain the cooperation of sources for interrogation. Therefore, the use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear."

Which agrees with what the scientists have found.
Many top interrogation experts have also found that extended periods of torture will induce hallucinations.
http://georgewash...ure.html
freethinking
1 / 5 (3) Sep 23, 2009
Use of force is not necessary to gain cooperation... extended periods of torture will induce hallucinations....
I agree but two things....

Define Tourture. We both can agree that beatings is tourture, but is waterboarding, not letting one sleep, being kept in solitary confinement, or listening to the same song repeatedly is that tourture? If Bush did it for sure the left would say it is. If Obama does it, would the left still say it is? Im convinced if Obama sanctioned beatings, most on the left would refuse to say beatings is torture.

If your in a war zone and you just caught a person who you knew placed a booby trap for your soldiers, putting a gun to his head and threatening to shoot him if he doesnt tell you were it is, if he believes you, there is a high likely hood of him speaking the truth. Is it right to do this, and would you do this? (I think I could and would as my fellow soldiers are more important to me than the enemy)
Birger
5 / 5 (1) Sep 28, 2009
Guys, Sweden outlawed torture in the 18th century and no one has wanted to bring it back, despite wars and crimes. During the big European witch hunts women (and some men) were tortured until they confessed to having done business with the devil. Conclusion: torture is useless for getting reliable information (unless you believe that all those people really did literally meet the devil).
Not even the British use torture anymore, and they had several decades of irregular warfare in Northern Ireland. This current American debate is a curious case of re-inventing the wheel. Or maybe the entire world is part of a conspiracy to disrespect Dick Cheney?
dmcl
Sep 28, 2009
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lengould100
Sep 29, 2009
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