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Cogn Emot. 2013;27(1):177-83. doi: 10.1080/02699931.2012.691087. Epub 2012 Jul 6.

On EMDR: eye movements during retrieval reduce subjective vividness and objective memory accessibility during future recall.

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  • 1Clinical and Health Psychology, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


In eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), patients make eye movements (EM) during trauma recall. Earlier experimental studies found that EM during recall reduces memory vividness during future recalls, and this was taken as laboratory support for the underlying mechanism of EMDR. However, reduced vividness was assessed with self-reports that may be affected by demand characteristics. We tested whether recall+EM also reduces memory vividness on a behavioural reaction time (RT) task. Undergraduates (N=32) encoded two pictures, recalled them, and rated their vividness. In the EM group, one of the pictures was recalled again while making EM. In the no-EM group one of the pictures was recalled without EM. Then fragments from both the recalled and non-recalled pictures, and new fragments were presented and participants rated whether these were (or were not) seen before. Both pictures were rated again for vividness. In the EM group, self-rated vividness of the recalled+EM picture decreased, relative to the non-recalled picture. In the no-EM group there was no difference between the recalled versus non-recalled picture. The RT task showed the same pattern. Reduction of memory vividness due to recall+EM is also evident from non-self-report data.

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