Working memory and emotional interpretation bias in a sample of Syrian refugee adolescents

Sven C. Mueller, Cagla Unal, Michela Saretta, Fadwa Al Mughairbi, Joana Gómez-Odriozola, Esther Calvete, Baris Metin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


The number of adolescent refugees around the world has been continuously increasing over the past few years trying to escape war and terror, among other things. Such experience not only increases the risk for mental health problems including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but also may have implications for socio-cognitive development. This study tested cognitive-affective processing in refugee adolescents who had escaped armed conflict in Syria and now resided in Istanbul, Turkey. Adolescents were split into a high trauma (n = 31, 12 girls, mean age = 11.70 years, SD = 1.15 years) and low trauma (n = 27, 14 girls, mean age = 11.07 years, SD = 1.39 years) symptom group using median split, and performed a working memory task with emotional distraction to assess cognitive control and a surprise faces task to assess emotional interpretation bias. The results indicated that high (vs. low) trauma symptom youth were ~ 20% worse correctly remembering the spatial location of a cue, although both groups performed at very low levels. However, this finding was not modulated by emotion. In addition, although all youths also had a ~ 20% bias toward interpreting ambiguous (surprise) faces as more negative, the high (vs. low) symptom youth were faster when allocating such a face to the positive (vs. negative) emotion category. The findings suggest the impact of war-related trauma on cognitive-affective processes essential to healthy development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1885-1894
Number of pages10
JournalEuropean Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Adolescents
  • Emotion
  • Refugee
  • Trauma
  • War
  • Working memory
  • interpretation bias

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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