Context behind School of Psychology study report

12 May 2023
Establishing scientific basis for accurate and ethical memory recall
An ethics-approved research study being conducted by researchers in our School of Psychology has been the focus of a recent article in student newspaper Honi Soit.

** Content warning: this article includes references to sexual assault.

The article published by Honi Soit concerns an important study being run out of the University of Sydney’s School of Psychology which seeks to scientifically establish the most appropriate way to interview victim-survivors of sexual assault to ensure the greatest recall accuracy while avoiding retraumatising them, crucial within sexual violence investigations. 

While undoubtedly a challenging subject matter, this study has been approved by three independent human research ethics committees – the University of Sydney’s and those at collaborating institutions the University of Birmingham and Lancaster University and has a number of processes in place to ensure student wellbeing is the first priority.

Since it was first published, Honi Soit has made a number of changes to update their article and we appreciate them working with us to correct the record and including University of Sydney’s responses to unverified claims.

Further information about the study is below, to provide additional context.

About the study

  • Sexual violence investigations tend to depend heavily on a victim-survivor’s account of the offence however many victim-survivors are not believed and their testimony discredited in court by defence.
  • Ultimately, this study aims to develop understanding of how individuals remember incidences of sexual violence, and aid in applying the findings to a real-life context – to improve the way traumatic memories are elicited from victim-survivors in interviews.  
  • Previous research investigating memory for sexual violence has typically used passive stimuli (such as mock crime videos or written scenarios), and are often discredited for lacking relevance or validity (for example, using car crash scenarios). Studies have also found virtual reality is less traumatic to study participants than other stimuli used in similar studies.   
  • The current study compares recall accuracy of participants who take part in an immersive VR scenario versus a passive video scenario, immediately after the experience and one week later. The researchers are also collecting subjective and physiological measures of stress to investigate whether memory accuracy and stress levels differ between conditions and relate to one another. 
  • Human research at the University of Sydney is reviewed and conducted within the guidelines set out in the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research and our Research Code of Conduct. 
  • The study has been subjected to a rigorous review process, and the researchers have protocols in place for appropriately informing potential participants about the study and what is involved, handling distress if it arises, and debriefing and providing support to participants at completion of their study participation for the subjects.  
  • Participation is voluntary, students are not required to take part and can withdraw at any time.   
  • Psychology undergraduates can choose whether or not to participate in up to five hours of research participation for five points of course credit, or to complete an alternative task for the same amount of course credit. There are currently 84 approved studies for students to choose from.   

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