Specificity of autobiographical memory in social phobia and major depression

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Several studies have found evidence for overgeneral autobiographical memory in patients with major depression and other disorders. Individuals with social phobia have been found to report early memories relating to specific experiences of being depreciated or rejected. However, there are no clear results regarding specificity of autobiographical memory in social phobia to date.


Experimental design is quasi-experimental: Three groups were compared with regard to specificity of autobiographical memory. Emphasis was laid on matching the groups for age, gender and educational level.


Following the Autobiographical Memory Test (AMT) and another recent study, 10 emotional cue words of positive or negative valence were presented to 18 outpatients with social phobia without current comorbid depression, 18 outpatients with major depression without current anxiety disorder and 18 healthy control subjects in a think-aloud task. Participants were asked to report a specific autobiographical event and received sufficient training to ensure that the method had been understood.


Results indicated no significant differences between groups for specificity and latency of first specific response. In contrast with earlier studies, an overgeneral response style was not observed in depressed patients. However, significant differences in educational level emerged.


Social phobics demonstrated a high ability to recall detailed specific autobiographical memories. Possible explanations for the discrepancy between our results and previous findings regarding depressed patients are discussed in terms of sample characteristics, specific modifications of the AMT-protocol and level of education.

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