Rescripting experimental trauma: Effects of imagery and writing as a way to reduce the development of intrusive memories
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BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Imagery rescripting is an effective treatment strategy for trauma related disorders, but its underlying mechanisms are still largely unknown. The aim of the present study was to test whether a) imagery (versus writing) is essential in the process of rescripting, and b) rescripting affects emotional memories on an implicit level.
METHODS: Healthy participants were subjected to an experimental trauma ('trauma film'), and randomly allocated to four conditions: recall of film + Imagery Rescripting (ImRs), recall of film + Writing Rescripting (WRs), recall only (ImRE), or no recall + no manipulation (NM). Next, participants recorded intrusion frequency and distress during one week, after which they executed a visual interference task (VIT) including neutral and trauma film stills, to access implicit emotional memory.
RESULTS: Main findings were that ImRs and WRs resulted in fewer intrusions than NM, with no differences between both rescripting conditions. We did not find an effect on intrusion distress and the VIT.
LIMITATIONS: Stills in the VIT were distracted from all four film scenes, whereas rescripting was done on one scene only, possibly obscuring the effect. Also, an analogue sample was used, which may limit generalizability to clinical samples.
CONCLUSIONS: We replicated previous effects of ImRs on intrusion development. Furthermore, no superior effect of imagery as key modality for rescripting was found; writing seems a viable alternative. Measures for implicit emotional memory such as the VIT may have to be applied relatively soon after the experimental session (e.g., same day as the experimental session).