Kyoto Hall - Marinela

Autobiographical memory and psychopathology: From basic to applied research

Barbara Dritschel, Caitlin Hitchock, Kris Martens Speaker

In this symposium four different studies employing novel research paradigms will be presented. The studies investigated various aspects of autobiographical memory (AM) processing in relation to eating behaviors, social anxiety, and depression.Through these paradigms the connection between AM processing, executive functioning, and emotional processing are investigated, as well as the implications of these processes for various psychiatric symptoms. In addition, recent developments of a memory-based intervention for depression, will be presented. In the first study, cognitive flexibility is investigated in relation to the ability to change from specific to general AMs. Further, cognitive flexibility is analyzed in relation to binge-eating and other eating behaviours.  In the second study, two modes of AM retrieval (involuntary and strategic) are compared in relation to the emotional intensity and emotion regulation triggered by such memories in highly socially anxious individuals. In the third presentation, the fluency and ability to shift between positive and negative AM is examined in depressed individuals, as well as changes in affect intensity. Lastly, the results of a novel online intervention aiming at increasing AM specificity is presented in relation to depressive symptoms and rumination. The presenters will discuss how these cognitive and (or) emotional processes related to AM processing may be related to psychopathology. The results of these studies may be employed to further existing cognitive models of eating disorders, social anxiety, and (or) depression. In addition, the findings from this new research may suggest ways to improve memory-based- interventions.

Adriana del Palacio-Gonzalez, convenor

Kris Martens, chair

Barbara Dritschel, discussant

4 Individual presentations in order:

The impact of mood and attitudes towards eating on autobiographical memory flexibility

Barbara Dritschel (presenter)

University of St. Andrews, Scotland

A deficit manifested by clinical and subclinical disordered eating is the ability to retrieve specific autobiographical memories.  It is possible that deficits in autobiographical memory retrieval extends to the ability to shift between retrieving specific versus general autobiographical memory information, a function important for problem –solving and emotion regulation.  There is evidence that cognitive flexibility is impaired in patients with eating disorders. Therefore, the aims of the present study were to determine whether impaired set-shifting is evident in a non-clinical population of females with eating concerns, and whether inflexibility is also manifested in autobiographical memory retrieval. Sixty-nine female undergraduate students completed a measure of autobiographical memory flexibility, a set-shifting task (Brixton Spatial Anticipation Test) and measures of mood, ruminative thinking, and eating habits. After controlling for mood and rumination, bulimic traits predicted set-shifting ability and flexibility in autobiographical memory retrieval. Thus flexibility deficits appear to manifest at the subclinical level, are evident in different domains, and appear to be related to bulimic traits, such as binge-eating.


Emotional Responses to Autobiographical Memories in Social Anxiety: The Roles of Retrieval Mode and Specificity

Adriana del Palacio-Gonzalez (presenter) and Dorthe Berntsen

Center on Autobiographical Memory Research, Aarhus University, Denmark

Previous research with individuals with dysphoria indicated that involuntary memories were associated with a greater employment of emotion regulation strategies, compared with memories retrieved strategically (i.e., voluntary). Specific memories were also associated with more intense emotions and emotion regulation.  We sought to extend previous findings regarding memory retrieval (involuntary vs. voluntary) and specificity to the emotional responses to memories in social anxiety. A memory diary was completed by 24 low-anxiety and 30 high-anxiety participants. The results indicated that involuntary retrieval came with more intense anxiety and embarrassment, and required greater emotion regulation than voluntary retrieval. Specific memories were emotionally more intense than general/non-specific memories. At the same time, socially anxious individuals responded with more intense negative emotions and greater emotion regulation for all their memories relative to non-anxious individuals. The implications for understanding emotional processes involved in autobiographical memory retrieval in social anxiety will be presented.​


Memory fluency, memory specificity, and the fading-affect bias for positive and negative autobiographical events in major depressive disorder

Caitlin Hitchcock1 (presenter), Jill Newby1, Emma Timm1, Rachel Howards1, Willem Kukyen2, and Tim Dalgleish 1,3

1Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, University of Cambridge

2 University of Oxford

3 Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust

Difficulties with aspects of autobiographical memory (AM) processing characterize clinical depression. We extended this research and evaluated two additional key components of AM processing that we hypothesized would be disrupted by depression: emotional memory fluency (ease of recall) and the fading affect bias – a greater reduction in the intensity of memory-related affect over time for negative versus positive events. Using a novel recall paradigm – the Good-Day, Bad-Day Task in which participants had to produce and rate memories of good and bad past events – we explored between-group differences in fluency and fading affect bias, as well as memory specificity. Relative to never-depressed individuals, depressed individuals demonstrated reduced fluency of positive memory retrieval, but no significant difference in fluency of negative memories. Although still present, the fading affect bias was significantly mitigated in the depressed sample. Finally, specificity was comparably reduced in depression for both positive and negative memories. The findings extend our understanding of the breadth of AM difficulties associated with depression and provide important guidance for the development of AM-based intervention protocols.

Remediating Reduced Autobiographical Memory Specificty (rAMS) with an online dismantled version of Memory Specificity Training (MeST)

Kris Martens1 (presenter), Tom J Barry2,3, Keisuke Takano4, Patrick Onghena1, and Filip Raes1

1 Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, University of Leuven, Belgium

2 Department of Psychology, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

3 Department of Psychology, The Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London

4 Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich, Germany

Memory Specificity Training (MeST) is an intervention for depression, which aims to remediate a memory deficit, known as reduced Autobiographical Memory Specificity (rAMS) or Overgeneral Autobiographical Memory (OGM). Hitherto studies have typically examined the effects of MeST using an in-person group training consisting of the core component specificity exercises and peripheral components (e.g., psycho-education on memory problems in depression). The current single-case design study examined an online dismantled version of MeST for individual use consisting exclusively exercises to retrieve specific memories. These exercises were guided by a web-application that provides feedback automatically on participants’ responses. A multiple baseline across participants design with 20 participants (17 female) with at least one depressive episode in the past and current mild depressive symptoms was used. Results indicate that online MeST increases memory specificity, but does not have a significant impact on symptomatology or associated processes. In addition, session-by-session improvement and feasibility measures give insight in the possibilities of online remediation of reduced Autobiographical Memory Specificity.