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Visuospatial context learning and configuration learning is associated with analogue traumatic intrusions

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BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Cognitive and information processing theories of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) assert that trauma intrusions are characterized by poor contextual embedding of visuospatial memories. Therefore, efficient encoding of visuospatial contextual information might protect against intrusions. We tested this idea using indices of visuospatial memory embedding along with the trauma film paradigm.

METHODS: Individual differences in spatial configuration learning, as well as the degree to which visual recognition memory depends on its visual encoding context (i.e., memory contextualization), were assessed in 81 healthy participants. Next, participants viewed a distressing film. Intrusions and other PTSD analogue symptoms were assessed subsequently.

RESULTS: Participants displaying stronger memory contextualization developed fewer intrusions and PTSD analogue symptoms. Spatial configuration learning was unrelated to memory contextualization and, contrary to prior findings, predicted higher levels of intrusions.

LIMITATIONS: Due to the analogue design, our findings may not translate directly to clinical populations. Furthermore, due to the correlational design of the study, causal relations remain to be tested.

CONCLUSIONS: Our results suggest a protective role for the ability to integrate memories in their original visual learning context against the development of PTSD symptoms.

    Research areas

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder, Trauma film paradigm, Intrusions, Contextual memory, Spatial contextual cueing task, POSTTRAUMATIC-STRESS-DISORDER, DUAL REPRESENTATION-THEORY, MEMORY, DISSOCIATION, PTSD, RESPONSES, CORTISOL, EVENTS, IMPACT, IMAGES
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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)120-127
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Early online date20 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017