When and why does abuse predict reduced autobiographical memory specificity?

  • Bunnell S
  • Greenhoot A
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Abstract

Two studies were conducted to explore the conditions that elicit autobiographical memory problems in abuse victims and the mechanism that underlie them. In Study 1 older adolescents (n=80) with and without self-reported abuse histories completed a modified version of the Autobiographical Memory Test (AMT-U); participants were given an unlimited amount of time to provide specific memories in response to cue words. Participants also completed measures of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), working memory, and attentional biases. This study found that abuse severity and PTSD symptoms were positively related to memory specificity on the AMT-U. In Study 2 older adolescents (n=78) with and without self-reported abuse histories completed the traditional (timed) version of the AMT. Participants also completed measures of working memory, attentional biases, self-reported coping, and psychopathological symptoms (i.e., depression and PTSD). In this study the opposite relationship was observed, such that abuse severity was related to poorer memory specificity, but this relationship was explained by disengagement coping and PTSD symptoms. This work suggests that poor memory specificity may represent a form of avoidance, but the application of avoidant mechanisms depends on the remembering context.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Abuse
  • Autobiographical memory
  • Avoidance
  • Memory specificity
  • Post-traumatic stress

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Authors

  • Sarah L. Bunnell

  • Andrea Follmer Greenhoot

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