Reduced autobiographical memory specificity and affect regulation.
Raes F., Hermans D., Williams JM., Eelen P.
The effect of specificity of autobiographical memory (AM) retrieval on the affective impact of an emotional event was examined. In Study 1 (N = 90) the impact of a negative and positive experience was compared between student participants who habitually retrieve autobiographical memories (AMs) in a specific way and participants who generally retrieve less specific memories. In Study 2 (N = 48) the effect of an experimentally induced (specific vs. overgeneral) retrieval style on the impact of a negative experience was studied in student participants who habitually retrieve less specific memories. Study 1 replicated the finding of Raes, Hermans, de Decker, Eelen, & Williams ( 2003 ) that a negative event leads to less subjective distress in low-specific participants as compared with high-specific participants. However, both groups did not differ in their affective reaction to a positive event. Important, reduced memory specificity was associated with "repressive coping", providing further evidence for the idea that reduced memory specificity is used as an avoidant or repressive-defensive mechanism to regulate negative affect ( Williams, 1996 ). In Study 2, participants who were induced to retrieve memories in an overgeneral way experienced more distress following a negative event as compared with participants who were induced to retrieve memories in a specific way. Results are discussed in the context of recent findings concerning AM specificity and emotion regulation ( Philippot, Schaefer, & Herbette, 2003 ). Directions for further research are suggested.