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Time-course of eye movement-related decrease in vividness and emotionality of unpleasant autobiographical memories

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The time-course of changes in vividness and emotionality of unpleasant autobiographical memories associated with making eye movements (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing, EMDR) was investigated. Participants retrieved unpleasant autobiographical memories and rated their vividness and emotionality prior to and following 96 seconds of making eye movements (EM) or keeping eyes stationary (ES); at 2, 4, 6, and 10 seconds into the intervention; then followed by regular larger intervals throughout the 96-second intervention. Results revealed a significant drop compared to the ES group in emotionality after 74 seconds compared to a significant drop in vividness at only 2 seconds into the intervention. These results support that emotionality becomes reduced only after vividness has dropped. The results are discussed in light of working memory theory and visual imagery theory, following which the regular refreshment of the visual memory needed to maintain it in working memory is interfered with by eye movements that also tax working memory, which affects vividness first.
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Keywords: EMDR; Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing; Intrusive memory; Mental imagery; PTSD; Post-traumatic stress disorder; Transdiagnostic; Working memory

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Clinical & Health Psychology, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands

Publication date: May 1, 2012

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