Handbook of Cognition and Emotion

By Tim Dalgleish; Mick J. Power | Go to book overview
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Chapter 12
Autobiographical Memory

Helen HealyandMark G. Williams
University of Wales, Bangor, UK

Psychotherapy is the healing of memories. At first, this claim seems both extreme and outdated, referring to a type of analytic psychotherapy that faded once Freud had changed his mind about the power of reminiscence in therapy. It may be true that few psychologists still believe that conscious access to repressed traumatic memories is the sole key to therapeutic success, yet both prescriptive and exploratory therapies include a great deal of anamnesis: recalling and “revisiting” events, both recent and remote; for example, in cognitive therapy, such anamnesis occurs at a number of different points: giving a family history, reporting on week-by-week events, recalling homework assignments, revisiting past events to reality-test the validity of beliefs and interpretations, understanding the origins of dysfunctional attitudes, considering how previous life events have affected current functioning. Despite the importance of recollection of autobiographical memory, it is only relatively recently that experimental psychologists began to study it systematically. In this chapter, recent studies will be reviewed in the light of current models of autobiographical memory.


Lloyd & Lishman (1975) were amongst the first to investigate personal memory experimentally. They used a list of neutral words as cues in clinically depressed patients who were instructed to think of either a pleasant or an unpleasant memory. They found that the more severe the depression, the quicker the patient retrieved an unpleasant memory. Further work in Oxford using non-depressed volunteers whose mood had been experimentally manipulated (Teasdale & Fogarty, 1979) found that latencies to remember positive or negative personal events were biased by mood, although most of this was due to slowed recall of


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