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Department of Cognitive Science

Fullness of feeling: Reflection, rumination, depression and the specificity of autobiographical memories

Doris McIlwain (
Alan Taylor (
Andrew Geeves (
Department of Psychology, Macquarie University, Sydney


Overgeneral memories are associated with a history of depression, and are produced even when a person is not currently depressed. Whether they are antecedent or scar of depression, they are linked to poor prognosis and are thought to be markers of underlying causal processes. Such processes include difficulties experienced in depression with executive function and truncated searches in remembering to minimize affective arousal. We provided cues of differing imageability and valence using the autobiographical memory test [AMT] to see whether less imageable cues were especially likely to be associated with overgeneral memories in those with depression history. Are personality dispositions linked to a curiosity about inner affective experience (reflection) linked to more specific memories? We also explored whether rumination, alexithymia and shame-proneness were more highly linked to overgeneral memories. Using an odds ratio analysis it was found that only depression history was significantly linked to overgeneral memory production (p<.04). Neither current dysphoria nor any other affective dispositions were significantly related to overgeneral memory. There was also a significant interaction in specificity of memory production with cue valence, cue imageability and depression history. Less specific memories were produced by all subjects in response to low-imageable negative cues. However, with positive cues only those with a history of depression significantly failed to provide specific memories to a low imageable positive cue. Implications for procedures inducing a sensory focus to remedy overgeneral memory are discussed.

Citation details for this article:

McIlwain, D., Taylor, A., Geeves, A. (2010). Fullness of Feeling: reflection, rumination, depression and the specificity of autobiographical memories. In W. Christensen, E. Schier, and J. Sutton (Eds.), ASCS09: Proceedings of the 9th Conference of the Australasian Society for Cognitive Science (pp. 238-244). Sydney: Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science.

DOI: 10.5096/ASCS200936
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