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Clin Psychol Sci. 2015 Jun 1;3(4):487-502.

Threat of death and autobiographical memory: a study of passengers from Flight AT236.

Author information

1
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, McMaster University ; Mood Disorders Program, St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton ; Homewood Research Institute.
2
Rotman Research Institute, Baycrest Health Sciences ; Department of Psychology, University of Toronto.
3
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, McMaster University ; Mood Disorders Program, St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton.
4
Rotman Research Institute, Baycrest Health Sciences.
5
Rotman Research Institute, Baycrest Health Sciences ; Department of Psychology, University of Toronto ; Department of Medicine (Neurology), University of Toronto.

Abstract

We investigated autobiographical memory in a group of passengers onboard a trans-Atlantic flight that nearly ditched at sea. The consistency of traumatic exposure across passengers, some of whom developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), provided a unique opportunity to assess verified memory for life-threatening trauma. Using the Autobiographical Interview, which separates episodic from non-episodic details, passengers and healthy controls (HCs) recalled three events: the airline disaster (or a highly negative event for HCs), the September 11, 2001 attacks, and a non-emotional event. All passengers showed robust mnemonic enhancement for episodic details of the airline disaster. Although neither richness nor accuracy of traumatic recollection was related to PTSD, production of non-episodic details for traumatic and non-traumatic events was elevated in PTSD passengers. These findings indicate a robust mnemonic enhancement for trauma that is not specific to PTSD. Rather, PTSD is associated with altered cognitive control operations that affect autobiographical memory in general.

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