Episodic and semantic components of autobiographical memories and imagined future events in post-traumatic stress disorder

Memory. 2014;22(6):595-604. doi: 10.1080/09658211.2013.807842. Epub 2013 Jun 25.


Individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) tend to retrieve autobiographical memories with less episodic specificity, referred to as overgeneralised autobiographical memory. In line with evidence that autobiographical memory overlaps with one's capacity to imagine the future, recent work has also shown that individuals with PTSD also imagine themselves in the future with less episodic specificity. To date most studies quantify episodic specificity by the presence of a distinct event. However, this method does not distinguish between the numbers of internal (episodic) and external (semantic) details, which can provide additional insights into remembering the past and imagining the future. This study employed the Autobiographical Interview (AI) coding scheme to the autobiographical memory and imagined future event narratives generated by combat veterans with and without PTSD. Responses were coded for the number of internal and external details. Compared to combat veterans without PTSD, those with PTSD generated more external than internal details when recalling past or imagining future events, and fewer internal details were associated with greater symptom severity. The potential mechanisms underlying these bidirectional deficits and clinical implications are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imagination
  • Iraq War, 2003-2011
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / psychology*
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Middle Aged
  • Semantics*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Veterans / psychology*
  • Young Adult