Implicit and Explicit Memory in Survivors of Chronic Interpersonal Violence

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We investigated the relationship of implicit and explicit memory to a range of symptoms in a sample of 27 women with exposure to chronic interpersonal violence (IPV). Participants viewed the first 3 letters (“stems”) of trauma-related, general threat, and neutral words; valenced words were matched with neutral words with the same stem. Free recall and a word-stem completion task were used to test explicit and implicit memory, respectively. Participants exhibited increased implicit memory for trauma-related words as compared with both general threat words and neutral “match” words. They also showed increased explicit memory for both general threat and trauma-related words. Finally, although neither implicit nor explicit memory was correlated with PTSD symptoms, implicit memory for trauma-related words was significantly correlated with symptoms associated with ongoing IPV. Interpersonal sensitivity, hostility, and alexithymia were significantly correlated with implicit, but not explicit, memory for trauma words. Somatization, dissociation, and alexithymia were negatively correlated with explicit, but not implicit, memory for general-threat words. These findings suggest that memory processes in survivors of IPV are closely related to the symptom profile associated with complex trauma. Exploring memory processes in survivors of IPV may lend unique insight into the development and maintenance of the symptom profile associated with IPV.

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