What Drives False Memories in Psychopathology? A Case for Associative Activation

Henry Otgaar*, Peter Muris, Mark L. Howe, Harald Merckelbach

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In clinical and court settings, it is imperative to know whether posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression may make people susceptible to false memories. We conducted a review of the literature on false memory effects in participants with PTSD, a history of trauma, or depression. When emotional associative material was presented to these groups, their levels of false memory were raised relative to those in relevant comparison groups. This difference did not consistently emerge when neutral or nonassociative material was presented. Our conclusion is supported by a quantitative comparison of effect sizes between studies using emotional associative or neutral, nonassociative material. Our review suggests that individuals with PTSD, a history of trauma, or depression are at risk for producing false memories when they are exposed to information that is related to their knowledge base.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1048-1069
JournalClinical Psychological Science
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017


  • false memory
  • psychopathology
  • PTSD
  • depression
  • trauma history
  • associative activation

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