Date of Award

Summer 6-1-2018

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department/Program

Forensic Psychology

Language

English

First Advisor

Deryn Strange

Second Reader

Charles Stone

Third Advisor

Rebecca Weiss

Abstract

Our research examines whether the way in which a person encodes a traumatic experience affects their post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and ability to remember the trauma over time. In our first study, we were interested in establishing whether people have any existing beliefs about how encoding processes influence the development of PTSD. In line with Ehlers and Clark’s (2000) theory, we hypothesized that people would be more likely to indicate that exclusively paying attention to sensory details during a traumatic event contributes to the formation of traumatic memories and PTSD. To test this hypothesis, we designed a simple survey asking about people’s beliefs concerning the relationship between encoding and PTSD as well as their confidence in those beliefs. In our second study, we examined whether people’s encoding strategy when they experience a traumatic event affects their later emotions and their ability to remember that trauma over time. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three encoding conditions—control, conceptually driven (process the meanings of the images) or data-driven (processing the images by focusing on the sensory details)—while they viewed a set of traumatic photographs from the International Affective Picture System (IAPS; Lang, Greenwald, Bradley, & Hamm, 1993). In Phase 1, participants took a series of baseline mood measures, were randomly assigned to an encoding condition, and were shown a series of traumatic photographs. Participants also monitored the number of intrusions they experienced and took an immediate Old/New memory test. A week later, participants completed Phase 2 involving a second, surprise, Old/New memory test. We also assessed participants PTSD symptoms again to see if their symptomology increased over the week. We hypothesized that participants in our data-driven encoding condition would misremember more trauma over time and experience an increase in PTSD symptoms (indicating the memory amplification effect). Although our Study 1 hypothesis was supported, Study 2 hypotheses were not. Nonetheless, our results provide insights into the importance of encoding strategies following exposure to trauma, changes in PTSD symptoms, and the potential for subsequent memory amplification following traumatic experiences.

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