Arresting visuospatial stimulation is insufficient to disrupt analogue traumatic intrusions
Number of pages
SourcePLoS One, 15, 2, (2020), article e0228416
Article / Letter to editor
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SW OZ BSI BO
SW OZ BSI KLP
SubjectExperimental Psychopathology and Treatment
Intrusive memories are a core symptom of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A growing body of analogue studies using trauma films suggest that carrying out specific demanding tasks (e.g., playing the video game Tetris, pattern tapping) after the analogue trauma can reduce intrusive memories. To examine the mechanism behind this effect, we tested whether mere engagement with attention-grabbing and interesting visual stimuli disrupts intrusive memories, and whether this depends on working memory resources and/or the concurrent activation of trauma film memories. In a total sample of 234 healthy participants, we compared no-task control conditions to a perceptual rating task with visually arresting video clips (i.e., non-emotional, complex, moving displays), to a less arresting task with non-moving, blurred pictures (Study 1), and to more demanding imagery tasks with and without repetitive reminders of the trauma film (Study 2). Generally, we found moderate to strong evidence that none of the conditions lead to differences in intrusion frequency. Moreover, our data suggest that intrusive memories were neither related to individual differences in working memory capacity (i.e., operation span performance; Study 1), nor to the degree of engagement with a visuospatial task (i.e., one-week recognition performance; Study 2). Taken together, our findings suggest that the boundary conditions for successful interference with traumatic intrusions may be more complex and subtle than assumed. Future studies may want to test the role of prediction errors during (re-)consolidation, deliberate efforts to suppress thoughts, or the compatibility of the task demands with the individual's skills.
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