"Travelling in time," a central feature of episodic memory is severely affected among individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with two opposite effects: vivid traumatic memories are unorganized in temporality (bottom-up processes), non-traumatic personal memories tend to lack spatio-temporal details and false recognitions occur more frequently that in the general population (top-down processes). To test the effect of these two types of processes (i.e. bottom-up and top-down) on emotional memory, we conducted two studies in healthy and traumatized adolescents, a period of life in which vulnerability to emotion is particularly high. Using negative and neutral images selected from the international affective picture system (IAPS), stimuli were divided into perceptual images (emotion generated by perceptual details) and conceptual images (emotion generated by the general meaning of the material). Both categories of stimuli were then used, along with neutral pictures, in a memory task with two phases (encoding and recognition). In both populations, we reported a differential effect of the emotional material on encoding and recognition. Negative perceptual scenes induced an attentional capture effect during encoding and enhanced the recollective distinctiveness. Conversely, the encoding of conceptual scenes was similar to neutral ones, but the conceptual relatedness induced false memories at retrieval. However, among individuals with PTSD, two subgroups of patients were identified. The first subgroup processed the scenes faster than controls, except for the perceptual scenes, and obtained similar performances to controls in the recognition task. The second subgroup group desmonstrated an attentional deficit in the encoding task with no benefit from the distinctiveness associated with negative perceptual scenes on memory performances. These findings provide a new perspective on how negative emotional information may have opposite influences on memory in normal and traumatized individuals. It also gives clues to understand how intrusive memories and overgeneralization takes place in PTSD.
Keywords: Adolescence; Attention; Emotion; Episodic memory; PTSD; Recollection; Time.
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