Dual-tasking during recall of negative memories or during visual perception of images: Effects on vividness and emotionality

J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry. 2019 Mar;62:112-116. doi: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2018.10.003. Epub 2018 Oct 6.


Background and objectives: Several treatments are effective in reducing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. We tested the effectiveness of an experimental intervention that consists of elements from two of these: virtual reality (VR) exposure therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. The latter is characterized by a dual-task approach: the patient holds a traumatic memory in mind while simultaneously making voluntary eye movements, resulting in reduced vividness and emotionality of the traumatic memory. If the experimental intervention is effective, it could provide a useful approach for highly avoidant individuals.

Methods: Participants recalled negative memories induced by a VR paradigm. The experimental group viewed VR screenshots that represented these negative memories while carrying out a dual-task. One control group recalled negative memories while carrying out the same dual-task (a standard dual-task condition) and another merely viewed the VR screenshots. Pre-to-post changes in self-rated memory vividness/emotionality were measured.

Results: The results indicate that viewing a screenshot only was outperformed by both dual-task interventions in terms of reductions in vividness/emotionality. Furthermore, the dual-task interventions had a comparable impact on vividness, but the screenshot variant led to greater decreases in emotionality.

Limitations: Changes in memory vividness/emotionality were only assessed shortly after the interventions and no measures of avoidance behavior were included in the study.

Conclusions: Looking at an image in VR that represents a memory while carrying out a dual-task may be at least as effective as recalling the memory during the dual-task. Interestingly, visually supporting a negative memory does not seem to prevent memory degrading by dual-tasking.

Keywords: Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing; Virtual reality exposure; Virtual reality paradigm.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy*
  • Virtual Reality*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult