Directed Forgetting of Trauma Cues in Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse With and Without Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

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Abstract

The authors used a directed-forgetting task to investigate whether psychiatrically impaired adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse exhibit an avoidant encoding style and impaired memory for trauma cues. The authors tested women with abuse histories, either with or without posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and women with neither abuse histories nor PTSD. The women saw intermixed trauma words (e.g., molested), positive words (e.g., confident), and categorized neutral words (e.g., mailbox) on a computer screen and were instructed either to remember or to forget each word. Relative to the other groups, the PTSD group did not exhibit recall deficits for trauma-related to-be-remembered words, nor did they recall fewer trauma-related to-be-forgotten words than other words. Instead, they exhibited recall deficits for positive and neutral words they were supposed to remember. These data are inconsistent with the hypothesis that impaired survivors exhibit avoidant encoding and impaired memory for traumatic information.

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