ScienceDaily (Sep. 22, 2009) — According to a new review of neuroscientific research, coercive interrogation techniques used during the Bush administration to extract information from terrorist suspects are likely to have been unsuccessful and may have had many unintended negative effects on the suspect's memory and brain functions.
A new article, published in the journal, Trends in Cognitive Science, reviews scientific evidence demonstrating that repeated and extreme stress and anxiety have a detrimental influence on brain functions related to memory.
Research has also shown that extreme stress has a deleterious effect on the frontal lobe and is associated with the production of false memories.
Neurochemical studies have revealed that the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, brain regions integral to the process of memory, are rich in receptors for hormones that are activated by stress and sleep deprivation and which have been shown to have deleterious effects on memory. "To briefly summarize a vast, complex literature, prolonged and extreme stress inhibits the biological processes believed to support memory in the brain," says O'Mara. "For example, studies of extreme stress with Special Forces Soldiers have found that recall of previously-learned information was impaired after stress occurred." Waterboarding in particular is an extreme stressor and has the potential to elicit widespread stress-induced changes in the brain.
"Given our current cognitive neurobiological knowledge, it is unlikely that coercive interrogations involving extreme stress will facilitate release of truthful information from long term memory," concludes Professor O'Mara. "On the contrary, these techniques cause severe, repeated and prolonged stress, which compromises brain tissue supporting both memory and decision making."