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Rumination and self-defining memories in the context of health concerns

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Individuals with health anxiety report experiencing a strong sense of vulnerability to illness. Such beliefs may be driven by the biased recollection of past illness-related events. However, little research has explored the role of memory in health anxiety. In other disorders, rumination has also been identified as a process that leads individuals to recall memories dominated by the content of their concerns. This study examined the proposition that rumination might impact the content of “self-defining” autobiographical memories among 60 college students with varying health anxiety (35% with clinical-level health anxiety). Participants were randomised to experiential/ruminative self-focus conditions, and then they completed the Self-Defining Memory Task. Responses were coded for valence and illness-relatedness. Results indicated that rumination led participants to retrieve more illness-related self-defining memories, while higher health anxiety scores were associated with more negative, but not more illness-focused memories. Ruminative thinking appears to activate health concerns, and may play a role in maintaining ongoing health anxiety.
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Keywords: Autobiographical memory; Health anxiety; Illness anxiety disorder; Rumination; Self

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: School of Psychology, University of New South Wales (UNSW), Kensington, Australia 2: Kids Cancer Centre, Sydney Children's Hospital, Randwick, Australia

Publication date: August 8, 2016

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