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Clinical Trial
, 16 (1), 48-57

The Effect of Emotional Stress on Involuntary and Voluntary Conscious Memories

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Clinical Trial

The Effect of Emotional Stress on Involuntary and Voluntary Conscious Memories

Nicoline Marie Hall et al. Memory.

Abstract

Clinical theories of post-traumatic stress disorder often claim that intrusive (involuntary) memories favour emotionally stressful material and that these memories come with more sensory imagery and emotional reliving compared to voluntary memories. However, these assumptions have not been verified experimentally. Here we obtained recordings of emotional reactions to aversive pictures at the time of encoding, as well as records of involuntary and voluntary memories of these pictures in a subsequent diary study. A comparison of individual ratings, obtained during encoding, of pictures recalled involuntarily and voluntarily showed that emotional stress at encoding increased overall accessibility, independent of whether recall was voluntary or involuntary. However at the time of recall, voluntary memories scored higher on narrative content and on measures of imagery. The findings are compatible with research on emotion and memory in general, but challenge clinical claims of differential involuntary versus voluntary access to emotionally stressful events.

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