Involuntary autobiographical memories in dysphoric mood: a laboratory study

Lia Kvavilashvili, Simone Schlagman

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The frequency and characteristics of involuntary autobiographical memories were compared in 25 stable dysphoric and 28 non-dysphoric participants, using a new laboratory-based task (Schlagman Kvavilashvili, 2008). Participants detected infrequent target stimuli (vertical lines) in a simple vigilance task and recorded any involuntary autobiographical memories that came to mind, mostly in response to irrelevant words presented on the screen. Dysphoric participants reported involuntary memories as frequently and as quickly as non-dysphoric participants and their memories were not repetitive intrusive memories of negative or traumatic events. Additional content analysis showed that dysphoric participants did not recall more memories of objectively negative events (e.g., accidents, illnesses, deaths) than non-dysphoric participants. However, significant group differences emerged in terms of a mood congruency effect whereby dysphoric participants rated their memories as more negative than non-dysphoric participants. Moreover, the proportion of negatively rated involuntary memories was related to lower mood ratings at the end of the session in the dysphoric but not in the non-dysphoric group. Finally, groups did not differ on several memory characteristics such as vividness, specificity (high in both groups) and rates of rehearsal (low in both groups). Theoretical and practical implications of these findings for research on depression and autobiographical memory are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)331-345
Number of pages15
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • Dysphoria
  • Depression
  • Intrusive memories
  • Involuntary autobiographical memories
  • Mood congruency
  • Over-general memory


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