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Psychol Bull. 2007 May;133(3):419-37.

Overgeneral autobiographical memory and traumatic events: an evaluative review.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.


Does trauma exposure impair retrieval of autobiographical memories? Many theorists have suggested that the reduced ability to access specific memories of life events, termed overgenerality, is a protective mechanism helping attenuate painful emotions associated with trauma. The authors addressed this question by reviewing 24 studies that assessed trauma exposure and overgenerality, examining samples with posttraumatic stress disorder, acute stress disorder, depression, traumatic event exposure, and other clinical disorders. Limitations are discussed, including variations in assessment of events, depression, and overgenerality and the need for additional comparison groups. Across studies, there was no consistent association between trauma exposure and overgenerality, suggesting that trauma exposure is unlikely to be the primary mechanism leading to overgenerality. Instead, psychopathology factors such as depression and posttraumatic stress appear to be more consistently associated with overgenerality. Alternative overgenerality theories may help identify key overgenerality mechanisms, improving current understanding of autobiographical memory processes underlying psychopathology.

(c) 2007 APA, all rights reserved

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