British Journal of Clinical Psychology

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Volume 41 Issue 4 (November 2002), Pages 331-431

Specificity of autobiographical memories in depression: An analysis of retrieval processes in a think‐aloud task (pages 411-416)

Objectives: According to J. M. G. Williams' (1996) concept of mnemonic interlock, the autobiographical memory retrieval of depressed patients tends to become deadlocked in a process characterized by iterative retrievals of overgeneral categoric memories. Following this concept, the study investigated whether depressed patients show consecutive retrievals of categoric memories.

Design: Depressed and control participants were compared regarding the temporal progression of memory retrievals in a think‐aloud cued autobiographical memory task.

Method: Depressed out‐patients (N = 15) and control participants (N = 15) were given cue words and asked to verbalize all thoughts while remembering details of an autobiographical event during a period of 2 min. Streams‐of‐consciousness were analysed regarding the number of different events. Event descriptions were judged as categoric, extended or specific.

Results: Compared to control participants, depressed participants produced significantly higher total numbers of categoric memories. Depressed participants differed from control participants regarding the number of consecutive categoric memories following an initial categoric memory but not following an initial specific memory.

Conclusion: Consistent with the concept of mnemonic interlock, results show that, instead of retrieving specific memories, depressed patients tend to produce sequences of consecutive categoric memories. This process may contribute to the maintenance of an overgeneral retrieval style.

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