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Psychol Trauma. 2019 Nov 7. doi: 10.1037/tra0000528. [Epub ahead of print]

Long-term intergenerational transmission of memories of the Vajont disaster.

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Department of Human Sciences.
Department of Developmental Psychology and Socialisation.



Previous literature documented the traumatic consequences of exposure to disasters on psychological functioning, but little attention has been paid to the intergenerational transmission of the memory of disasters. We explored long-term effects on the memory of the Vajont dam disaster in Northeast Italy that claimed 1,910 lives in 1963.


We collected data from 52 two-generation families in which the first generations were born before the disaster and the second generations after. The families were divided into an experimental group whose first generation survived the disaster and a control group whose first generation had moved there afterward. The interviews included an open-ended narrative on the memory of the disaster. We coded free narratives focusing on the richness of the memories (i.e., length, causes, core, aftermath), analyzing negative emotions and salience of the natural and psychological domains.


We applied generalized linear mixed models. The richness of the memories, including references to negative emotions, diminished with lower exposure and with intergenerational transmission. Moreover, the participants built a shared representation of the disaster that did not markedly differ across exposure or generation. The reported causes were attributed more to the natural rather than the human domain; the consequences more to the psychological compared to the material domain.


Our findings highlight the processes through which collective memories of historical traumatic events are built over the long term and the way a collective identity develops to bear the burden of highly dramatic events and to transmit intergenerational lessons from the past. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).


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