The impact of depression and PTSD symptom severity on trauma memory

Andrea R Ashbaugh, Julia Marinos, Brad Bujaki
Memory 2018, 26 (1): 106-116
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression frequently co-occur following a traumatic event. Differences in the processing of autobiographical memory have been observed in both disorders in the form of overgeneralised memories and negative intrusive memories. The current study examined how symptoms of PTSD and depression influence the phenomenological characteristics of trauma memories. Undergraduate students who had experienced a traumatic event (n = 696) completed questionnaires online including measures of PTSD and depressive symptom severity. They rated their trauma memory on several phenomenological characteristics using the Memory Experiences Questionnaire [Sutin, A. R., & Robins, R. W. (2007). Phenomenology of autobiographical memories: The memory experiences questionnaire. Memory.]. Moderated multiple regression was used to examine how PTSD and depressive symptom severity related to each phenomenological characteristic. Symptoms of PTSD and depression were related separately and uniquely to the phenomenological characteristics of the trauma memory. PTSD severity predicted trauma memories that were more negative, contained higher sensory detail, and were more vivid. In contrast, depressive symptom severity predicted trauma memories that were less accessible and less coherent. These findings suggest that depressive and PTSD symptomatology affect traumatic memory differently and support a distinction between these two disorders.

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