Overgeneral cognitive style : the impact on physical and emotional adjustment to life stress
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Research has found that individuals who are depressed and have experienced past traumas tend to report vague or overly general autobiographical memories (AM) and evidence prolonged latencies to retrieve specific AM’s (Kuyken & Brewin, 1995; Kuyken and Dagleish,1995). Additionally, other researchers have demonstrated that individuals who possess AM deficits have associated difficulties with social problem solving (SPS) (Goddard, Dritschel, and Burton, 1996) and display overgenerality in their imaginings of the future, which has been linked to the hopelessness that often accompanies depression (Williams et al., 1996). Finally, in terms of trauma, researchers have speculated that deficits in AM prevent individuals who have experienced trauma from restructuring their traumatic schemata thereby engendering psychopathology (Harvey, Bryant, and Dang, 1998). Based on the aforementioned research, this dissertation investigated whether AM deficits act as “diatheses” that predispose individuals to psychopathology, especially those with histories of trauma and who are currently experiencing life stress (Abramson, Alloy, and Metalsky, 1988). A starting point for the study was the notion that overgeneral (OG) memory may exist as a broad means of avoiding painful affects associated with traumatic memories. To this end, it was hypothesized that OG memory as assessed by established assessments of this construct would be associated with OG memory as assessed by a narrative measure of overgenerality. Second, due to the associations between AM deficits and related cognitive abilities (i.e. SPS and OG imaginings of the future), it was hypothesized that individuals with AM deficits would experience greater physical and emotional distress over the course of the semester than those without this vulnerability. Third, in agreement with established “diathesis-stress” models, it was hypothesized that AM deficits would interact with life stress over the course of the semester and lead to greater levels of physical and emotional distress than in “stressed” participants without the diathesis. Finally, based on the theory that AM deficits hinder individuals from restructuring traumatic schemata, it was hypothesized that AM deficits would mediate the relationship between past trauma and current physical and emotional distress. Results supported the hypothesis that overgeneral memory and latencies to provide specific memories would interact with life stress to predict emotional distress over the course of a semester. However, overgeneral memory and latencies to provide specific memories did not independently predict physical or emotional distress over the course of the semester and were not found to mediate the relationship between past trauma and current distress.