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The authors review research showing that when recalling autobiographical events, many emotionally disturbed patients summarize categories of events rather than retrieving a single episode. The mechanisms underlying such overgeneral memory are examined, with a focus on M. A. Conway and C. W. Pleydell-Pearce's (2000) hierarchical search model of personal event retrieval. An elaboration of this model is proposed to account for overgeneral memory, focusing on how memory search can be affected by (a) capture and rumination processes, when mnemonic information used in retrieval activates ruminative thinking; (b) functional avoidance, when episodic material threatens to cause affective disturbance; and (c) impairment in executive capacity and control that limits an individual's ability to remain focused on retrieval in the face of distraction.

Original publication




Journal article


Psychol Bull

Publication Date





122 - 148


Autobiography as Topic, Cues, Humans, Memory, Mood Disorders, Problem Solving, Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic