a1 Department of Psychology, University of Konstanz, Germany
a2 Vivo – The Victim's Voice Non-Governmental Organization, Allensbach, Germany
a3 Department of Psychology, University of Bielefeld, Germany
Background Traumatized individuals and particularly post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients are characterized by memory disturbances that suggest altered memory control. The present study investigated the issue using an item method, directed forgetting (DF) paradigm in 51 civil war victims in Uganda. All participants had been exposed to severe traumatic stress and 26 additionally suffered from PTSD.
Method In an item cued, DF paradigm photographs were presented, each followed by an instruction to either remember or forget it. A recognition test for all initially presented photographs and thematically similar distracters followed. DF patterns were compared between the non-PTSD and the PTSD groups. Post-experimental ratings of picture valence and arousal were collected and correlated with DF.
Results Results revealed DF, that is, reduced recognition for ‘to-be-forgotten’ items in the non-PTSD but not in the PTSD group. Moreover, in the non-PTSD, but not in the PTSD group, false alarms were reduced for ‘to-be-remembered’ items. Finally, DF was reduced in those participants who rated the pictures as more arousing, the PTSD group giving, on average, higher arousal ratings.
Conclusions Data indicate that DF is reduced in PTSD and that the reduction is related to stimulus arousal. Furthermore, individuals with PTSD are characterized by a more global encoding style than individuals without PTSD, reflected in a higher false alarm rate. In sum, traumatized individuals with (but not without) PTSD are impaired in their ability to selectively control episodic memory encoding. This impairment may contribute to clinical features of the disorder such as intrusions and flashbacks.
(Received February 03 2011)
(Revised September 14 2011)
(Accepted September 16 2011)
(Online publication October 20 2011)