Eye movement during recall reduces objective memory performance: An extended replication

Behav Res Ther. 2017 May;92:94-105. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2017.03.002. Epub 2017 Mar 9.


Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder involves making eye movements (EMs) during recall of a traumatic image. Experimental studies have shown that the dual task decreases self-reported memory vividness and emotionality. However valuable, these data are prone to demand effects and little can be inferred about the mechanism(s) underlying the observed effects. The current research aimed to fill this lacuna by providing two objective tests of memory performance. Experiment I involved a stimulus discrimination task. Findings were that EM during stimulus recall not only reduces self-reported memory vividness, but also slows down reaction time in a task that requires participants to discriminate the stimulus from perceptually similar stimuli. Experiment II involved a fear conditioning paradigm. It was shown that EM during recall of a threatening stimulus intensifies fearful responding to a perceptually similar yet non-threat-related stimulus, as evidenced by increases in danger expectancies and skin conductance responses. The latter result was not corroborated by startle EMG data. Together, the findings suggest that the EM manipulation renders stimulus attributes less accessible for future recall.

Keywords: EMDR; Eye movements; Fear generalization; Memory performance; PTSD.

MeSH terms

  • Conditioning, Psychological / physiology
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology
  • Eye Movements / physiology*
  • Fear / physiology
  • Fear / psychology
  • Female
  • Galvanic Skin Response / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Young Adult