The Cost in Remembering of Ruminating on Negative Memories

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Abstract

This study investigated retrieval mechanisms that may be involved in memory for distressing stimuli. Forty-one nonclinical participants watched a video clip depicting the immediate aftermath of a serious car accident. Following this, half of the participants were instructed to focus attention on the victims of the accident and to consider the negative sequelae of their injuries. The remaining participants were not given any instructions. Following the Victim Focus/Control period, all participants completed a cued-recall task assessing their memory of the video clip. Overall, victim-related details were better recalled than nonvictim related details. It is important to note that participants in the Victim Focus condition retrieved fewer peripheral details than participants in the Control condition. These results suggest that people focusing attention on distressing aspects of an event can experience a cost in remembering other aspects of the event. These findings may be interpreted in terms of enhanced recollection of central events or retrieval-induced forgetting mechanisms to explain patterns of diminished memory for aspects of distressing events.

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