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Keywords:

  • integrative complexity;
  • cognition under stress;
  • Holocaust narratives

Abstract

Videotaped interviews of 30 Holocaust survivors were scored for integrative complexity, the recognition of alternate perspectives or dimensions of a topic (“differentiation”) and the joint consideration of several perspectives or dimensions (“integration”). Memories showed decreased differentiation and integration as they moved from pre-war life to the shock and upheaval when organized persecution began. High complexity levels reflected survivors mustering their resources to enhance their chances of survival and successful postwar adaptation. These findings demonstrate the usefulness of quantitative, objective content analytic methods in Holocaust survivor research, add a cognitive dimension to the study of survival during and after extreme situations, and confirm theoretical propositions about decision making and information processing under stress.