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The Impact of Emotion on Memory Retrieval in Grievers
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Emotion, thinking, and memory are interconnected. Mood and thinking reciprocally spur each other, while thinking and autobiographical memory (ABM) recall also bi-directionally impact each other, which can lead to a cognitive vulnerability to developing and maintaining disorder. The current study explores the main premises in the ABM literature: 1) Overgeneral memory (OGM) recall has been implicated in the development of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive disorder (MDD), yet its role in prolonged grief disorder (PGD) is still unclear; 2) OGM is theorized to have an affect-regulation function. Yet few studies have explored OGM in the context of emotion. To our knowledge, this is the first study to experimentally induce emotion and assess its effects on ABM retrieval specificity in a bereaved sample. Memory recall specificity levels and whether memories are loss-related versus non-loss related may be implicated in predicting psychopathology. The current study randomly assigned bereaved participants into three groups: happy, sad, and neutral video clip emotion induction. After the emotion induction video, participants completed an autobiographical memory task which involves natural retrieval of memories by completing sentence stems. This type of ABM task has been shown to be a more specific measure of OGM in non-clinical samples, called the Sentence Completion for Events from the Past. Autobiographical memory responses were coded for percentage of specific memory recall and percentage of loss-related memory recall to determine the relationship to psychopathology symptom severity levels within an experimentally manipulated emotional context. Results indicated that PGD predicted greater specific memory recall and greater loss-related recall. In response to the sad emotion induction, loss-related recall was employed as an emotion regulation strategy, but only for those with PGD. This study helps clarify the role of ABM recall specificity in psychopathology, particularly the role of memory recall in response to different emotional contexts in a population of a bereaved adults with and without PGD. This has implications for treatment targets for those presenting to treatment with pathological responses to bereavement.