Memory Category Fluency, Memory Specificity, and the Fading Affect Bias for Positive and Negative Autobiographical Events: Performance on a Good Day–Bad Day Task in Healthy and Depressed Individuals

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In mentally healthy individuals, autobiographical memory is typically biased toward positive events, which may help to maintain psychological well-being. Our aim was to assess a range of important positive memory biases in the mentally healthy and explore the possibility that these biases are mitigated in those with mental health problems. We administered a novel recall paradigm that required recollection of multiple good and bad past events (the Good Day–Bad Day task) to healthy and depressed individuals. This allowed us to explore differences in memory category fluency (i.e., the ability to generate integrated sets of associated events) for positive and negative memories, along with memory specificity, and fading affect bias—a greater reduction in the intensity of memory-related affect over time for negative versus positive events. We found that healthy participants demonstrated superior category fluency for positive relative to negative events but that this effect was absent in depressed participants. Healthy participants exhibited a strong fading affect bias that was significantly mitigated, although still present, in depression. Finally, memory specificity was reduced in depression for both positive and negative memories. Findings demonstrate that the positive bias associated with mental health is maintained by multiple autobiographical memory processes and that depression is as much a function of the absence of these positive biases as it is the presence of negative biases. Results provide important guidance for developing new treatments for improving mental health.

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