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Psychother Res. 2010 May;20(3):321-36. doi: 10.1080/10503300903470735.

Brain activation during autobiographical relationship episode narratives: a core conflictual relationship theme approach.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania, Gates Building, 10th floor, 3400 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


The authors combined the core conflictual relationship theme (CCRT) method and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify brain regions involved in recall of autobiographical relationship episodes, a key process in psychotherapy. Relationship narratives were obtained from healthy subjects and scored for CCRT relationship themes and emotion. Autobiographical personal and nonautobiographical control narratives were presented in a block-design fMRI experiment. Personal versus control narratives showed activations in anterior cingulate, precuneus, inferior and middle frontal gyri, and inferior parietal lobule. These are regions involved in autobiographical memory, theory of mind, self-referential processing, and emotion. In an exploratory analysis, higher CCRT scores correlated with increased brain activation in the left hippocampus, parahippocampal gyrus, and middle occipital gyrus. This suggests that brain systems subserving memory processes are more active when recalling relationship episodes with greater CCRT content.

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