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Eur J Psychotraumatol. 2016 Mar 7;7:29163. doi: 10.3402/ejpt.v7.29163. eCollection 2016.

Emotional expressiveness and avoidance in narratives of unaccompanied refugee minors.

Author information

  • 1Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria;
  • 2Social Sciences Division, The New School for Public Engagement, New York, USA.
  • 3Department of Psychiatry, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL, USA.
  • 4Department of Community, Systems and Mental Health Nursing, College of Nursing, Rush University, Chicago, IL, USA.
  • 5Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.
  • 6Department of Neurology, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.
  • 7Nevada Center for Excellence in Disabilities, College of Education, University of Nevada, Reno, NV, USA.
  • 8Division of Child Psychiatry and Human Development, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA, USA.
  • 9Abbey Neuropsychology Clinic, Palo Alto, CA, USA.



The aim of this study was to examine a cohort of unaccompanied refugee minors (URMs) by means of psycholinguistic methods in order to obtain a more subtle picture of their degree of traumatization.


Twenty-eight participants were included in the Stress-Inducing Speech Task (SIST) consisting of a free association (FA) and a stress (STR) condition. Narratives were examined by means of (1) quantitative parameters (word count); (2) psycholinguistic variables (temporal junctures, TJs), narrative structure, referential activity (RA)-a measure of emotional expressivity; and (3) content analysis ratings.


Word count was significantly lower than in age-matched norms. In the FA condition, TJs were lower, but in the STR condition, rates were comparable. RA was significantly higher in both conditions. Content analysis ratings showed that the experiences described by these youths were potentially traumatic in nature.


This pattern of narrative shows a mixture of fulfilling the task demand, while containing an emotionally charged narrative. Narrative structure was absent in the FA condition, but preserved in the STR condition, as URMs struggled with the description of non-normative events. This indicates that these youths have not yet emotionally dealt with and fully integrated their trauma experiences.


Trauma; narration; psycholinguistics; unaccompanied refugee minors

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