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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.

Original publication




Journal article


Cogn Emot

Publication Date





402 - 429