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Weak evidence for increased motivated forgetting of trauma-related words in dissociated or traumatised individuals in a directed forgetting experiment

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Motivated forgetting is the idea that people can block out, or forget, upsetting or traumatic memories, because there is a motivation to do so. Some researchers have cited directed forgetting studies using trauma-related words as evidence for the theory of motivated forgetting of trauma. In the current article subjects used the list method directed forgetting paradigm with both trauma-related words and positive words. After one list of words was presented subjects were directed to forget the words previously learned, and they then received another list of words. Each list was a mix of positive and trauma-related words, and the lists were counterbalanced. Later, subjects recalled as many of the words as they could, including the ones they were told to forget. Based on the theory that motivated forgetting would lead to recall deficits of trauma-related material, we created eight hypotheses. High dissociators, trauma-exposed, sexual trauma-exposed, and high dissociators with trauma-exposure participants were hypothesised to show enhanced forgetting of trauma words. Results indicated only one of eight hypotheses was supported: those higher on dissociation and trauma recalled fewer trauma words in the to-be-forgotten condition, compared to those low on dissociation and trauma. These results provide weak support for differential motivated forgetting.
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Keywords: Motivated forgetting; directed forgetting; dissociation; trauma

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, MS, USA 2: Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders, Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, University of California, Irvine, CA, USA

Publication date: May 28, 2018

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