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. 2008 Aug;46(8):913-31.
doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2008.04.006. Epub 2008 Apr 25.

How Eye Movements Affect Unpleasant Memories: Support for a Working-Memory Account

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How Eye Movements Affect Unpleasant Memories: Support for a Working-Memory Account

Raymond W Gunter et al. Behav Res Ther. .

Abstract

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing can reduce ratings of the vividness and emotionality of unpleasant memories-hence it is commonly used to treat posttraumatic stress disorder. The present experiments compared three accounts of how eye movements produce these benefits. Participants rated unpleasant autobiographical memories before and after eye movements or an eyes stationary control condition. In Experiment 1, eye movements produced benefits only when memories were held in mind during the movements, and eye movements increased arousal, contrary to an investigatory-reflex account. In Experiment 2, horizontal and vertical eye movements produced equivalent benefits, contrary to an interhemispheric-communication account. In Experiment 3, two other distractor tasks (auditory shadowing, drawing) produced benefits that were negatively correlated with working-memory capacity. These findings support a working-memory account of the eye movement benefits in which the central executive is taxed when a person performs a distractor task while attempting to hold a memory in mind.

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