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Clin Psychol Rev. 2012 Feb;32(1):34-48. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2011.10.003. Epub 2011 Nov 4.

The mechanisms underlying overgeneral autobiographical memory: an evaluative review of evidence for the CaR-FA-X model.

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Department of Psychology, Northwestern University, 2029 Sheridan Road, Swift Hall, Suite 102, Evanston, IL 60208, USA.


Overgeneral autobiographical memory (OGM) has been found to be an important cognitive phenomenon with respect to depression and trauma-related psychopathology (e.g., posttraumatic stress disorder), and researchers have been interested in better understanding the factors that contribute to this proposed vulnerability factor. The most prominent model of mechanisms underlying OGM to date is Williams et al.'s (2007) CaR-FA-X model. This model proposes that three processes influence OGM: capture and rumination, functional avoidance, and impaired executive control. The author reviews the current state of support for the CaR-FA-X model by evaluating 38 studies that have examined OGM and one or more mechanisms of the model. Collectively, these studies reveal robust support for associations between OGM and both rumination and impaired executive control. OGM also appears to be a cognitive avoidance strategy, and there is evidence that avoiding the retrieval of specific memories reduces distress after an aversive event, at least in the short term. Important issues that have been left unresolved are highlighted, including the nature of the capture phenomenon, the role of trauma in functional avoidance, and the developmental nature of functional avoidance. Recommendations for future research that will enhance understanding of the factors that contribute to OGM are suggested.

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