Kyoto Hall - Marinela

Autobiographical Memory in Anxiety and Related Disorders

Tine Bennedsen Gehrt, Adriana del Palacio-González1, Barbara Dritschel Speaker

Lately, there is an increased interest in research regarding the underlying mechanisms of autobiographical memory disturbances in psychopathology. The extended understanding of these mechanisms and related processes may facilitate treatment development for various clinical populations. In this symposium, the presenters will focus on new research examining the link between autobiographical memory and anxiety disorders and related symptoms. This link is examined in relation to appraisals of how central personally experienced events are to an individual’s identity, as well as to the content of various sampled memories. In the first study, the content and characteristics of autobiographical memories and episodic future thoughts in patients with severe health anxiety are examined and compared to patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder and control participants. In the second presentation, data concerning how memory centrality is related to emotion regulation will be presented. This relationship is later examined in the connection to non-specific anxiety symptoms (e.g., bodily sensations) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) symptoms. In the last presentation, the causal relation between memory centrality and symptoms of PTSD is explored using a centrality cognitive bias modification (CBM) training. It was tested whether a centrality CBM was able to decrease memory centrality and subsequent symptoms of PTSD. In sum, in this symposium the latest research findings on memory processes in severe health anxiety, GAD, and PTSD symptoms will be presented, side by side, in order to foster a broad way of thinking about memory processes in psychopathology and inform interventions.

Symposium Convenor: Mirjam Vermeulen
Chair: Mirjam Vermeulen
Presenters: Tine Bennedsen Gehrt,1; Adriana del Palacio-González,1;  Mirjam Vermeulen,2
Discussant: Barbara Dritschel,3

1. Center on Autobiographical Memory Research, Aarhus University, Denmark; 2. Behavior, Health and Psychopathology, KU Leuven, Belgium; 3. School of Psychology, University of St Andrews, United Kingdom

Autobiographical memory in severe health anxiety

Tine B. Gehrt 1, Lisbeth Frostholm 2, Marie-Louise Obermann 3, Dorthe Berntsen 1

1 Center on Autobiographical Memory Research, Aarhus University, Denmark

2 Research Clinic for Functional Disorders, Aarhus University Hospital, Denmark

3 Clinic for OCD and Anxiety Disorders, Aarhus University Hospital, Denmark

Severe health anxiety is a disorder characterized by exaggerated rumination with intrusive worries about harboring a serious illness and a persistent preoccupation with one’s health. Memory processes have been proposed to be involved in the maintenance of severe health anxiety. However, autobiographical memory has not been directly studied in patients with severe health anxiety. The present study examined autobiographical memories and personal episodic future thoughts in patients diagnosed with severe health anxiety, patients diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and control participants. The two patient groups displayed similar patterns in the characteristics of the autobiographical events, but differed in the content of the reported events. Patients with severe health anxiety reported more events related to their own illness or death than either of the two other groups. Patients with OCD did not show a distinct pattern of event content. The results are discussed in relation the role of autobiographical memory as a potential maintaining factor in severe health anxiety, and similarities and differences between severe health anxiety and OCD in autobiographical memory.


Memory centrality, state emotion regulation, and anxiety symptoms

Adriana del Palacio-Gonzalez & Dorthe Berntsen
Center on Autobiographical Memory Research, Aarhus University, Denmark

In a recent study we found that memories that are more central to identity were associated with more intense emotions and a greater use of various emotion regulation strategies upon memory retrieval. We also found that state emotion regulation employed for highly central memories (but not low-centrality memories) was related to depressive symptoms. In two studies we sought to extend our initial findings to anxiety symptoms. Participants (N = 199 and N = 229, 18 – 35 year olds) rated the memories of recent events along various emotion-related responses at the state level (i.e., specific for a given memory). In both studies more central memories required a greater employment of emotion regulation strategies. In Study 1, emotion regulation of highly central memories (but not low centrality) predicted variance of non-specific anxiety symptoms (e.g., body symptoms). In Study 2 state emotion regulation for both highly central and less central memories was associated with generalized anxiety disorder symptoms. The results suggest that the appraisal for centrality is related to the emotional response displayed when remembering recent events. In addition, the emotional response triggered by different memories is related to anxiety symptoms. However, this connection is different depending on the specific symptom group. The potential role of both centrality appraisals and specific state emotion regulation strategies employed when remembering recent events will be discussed.


Decreasing Event Centrality in Undergraduates Using Cognitive Bias Modification of Appraisals
Mirjam Vermeulen1, Adam D. Brown23, Filip Raes1, Julie Krans145

1 Behavior, Health and Psychopathology, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium

2 Department of Psychiatry, New York University School of Medicine, New York, USA

3 Department of Psychology, Sarah Lawrence College, New York, USA

4 Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands

5 Pro Persona Overwaal, Nijmegen, The Netherlands

Event centrality refers to the extent to which a personal event in autobiographical memory serves as a reference point for other experiences, as a turning point in the life-story, and is integrated into components of personal identity. Research has shown that event centrality is positively related to symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However, limited research is available on the causal relation between event centrality and PTSD symptoms. In our experiment, the causal link between the centrality of a stressful negative autobiographical memory and PTSD symptoms is tested. More specific, the effect of a centrality Cognitive Bias Modification (CBM-App) on event centrality, and symptoms of stress (specifically intrusions and avoidance), mediated by worry, rumination, and posttraumatic cognitions, will be tested. Participants in the CBM-App condition reported reduced event centrality compared to participants in a non-centrality control condition. No changes in PTSD symptoms were found. The link between event centrality and PTSD symptoms was mediated by posttraumatic cognitions and rumination. Together, these studies suggest that CBM-App training can lower appraisals of event centrality of a distressing autobiographical memory. Long-term effects on PTSD symptoms will need to be tested in future research.