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J Abnorm Psychol. 2007 Nov;116(4):786-95.

Levels of specificity of autobiographical memories and of biographical memories of the deceased in bereaved individuals with and without complicated grief.

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  • 1Emotion Research Group, Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, England.


Traumatized individuals experiencing posttraumatic stress have difficulty retrieving specific autobiographical memories to cue words on the Autobiographical Memory Test (AMT; J. M. G. Williams & K. Broadbent, 1986). This may represent a generalized, functional avoidance of the personal past. However, such individuals also often report specific intrusive memories of their trauma in the day-to-day. This raises the possibility that memories tied to the source of the person's distress are immune to this putative avoidance process. This was investigated in bereaved individuals with complicated grief (CG) who reported intrusive, specific memories from the life of their deceased loved one, and matched bereaved controls without CG. Participants performed the AMT and two Biographical Memory Tests (BMTs), cueing memories from the life of the deceased (BMT-Deceased) and from a living significant other (BMT-Living). To negative word cues, the CG group showed reduced specificity for the AMT and BMT-Living, relative to controls, but this effect was reversed on the BMT-Deceased. These data support the proposal that memories tied to the source of an individual's distress are immune to the processes that underlie the standard reduced specificity effect.

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