How does immediate recall of a stressful event affect psychological response to it?

Catherine B. Gittins, Helen M. Paterson, Louise Sharpe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background and objective: In forensic settings, individuals who experience a traumatic event are often encouraged to recall it soon afterwards to preserve their memory for it. Some theories of the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) suggest that this may increase psychopathology. The primary aim of the study was to examine the effect of immediate recall of a trauma analogue video on psychopathology.

Method: Eighty-five undergraduate students were randomised to view a video of a car accident, described as either a real event (high stress) or training event (low stress). They then completed either the Self-Administered Interview (SAI©, Gabbert, Hope, & Fisher, 2009) or a filler task. All participants returned one week later to provide an account of the event.

Results: As predicted, participants in the SAI early recall task condition remembered the video content better one week after seeing the video, shown both by their greater recall of correct details and greater rejection of misinformation. However, completing the SAI resulted in higher anxiety immediately afterwards, and more severe PTSD-like symptoms one week later, compared to control condition. PTSD intrusion-like symptoms also predicted more accurate recall, while avoidance predicted poorer memory.

Limitations: While the trauma analogue video used in this study has been previously used, and did effectively trigger post-traumatic-like symptoms, it is unclear how well these results generalise to actual trauma situations.

Conclusions: These results suggest the relationship between PTSD symptoms and memory might be more complex than previously recognised, with intrusive phenomena possibly promoting memory and avoidance symptoms compromising memory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-26
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2015
Externally publishedYes


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