The Cognitive Representation of Stressful Memories

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Title: The Cognitive Representation of Stressful Memories
Author: Boals, Adriel
Advisors: Kitty Klein, Chair
Rupert Nacoste, Member
James Kalat, Member
Slater Newman, Member
Abstract: The purpose of the present study was to explore differences in the cognitive representation of stressful memories versus less stressful memories. Five hundred-fifty six participants indicated whether they were currently involved in a significant romantic relationship, had experienced the breakup of a relationship in the last 12 months, or had not been involved in a relationship in the last 12 months. To compare stressful memories to less stressful memories, participants who experienced a breakup rated how stressful the breakup was for them (past distress). Ninety-one participants who had experienced a breakup reported low distress about the breakup; 117 reported high distress. Three hundred-forty eight participants who had not experienced the breakup of a significant romantic relationship in the last 12 months were included in the study as comparison groups. A multidimensional scaling (MDS) technique was used to measure the cognitive representations of participants' memories using 6 behaviors and 6 emotions associated with romantic relationships. In addition, participants completed a measure of intrusive thoughts about the relationship and wrote a brief essay describing their deepest thoughts and feelings about their past relationship and the subsequent breakup. Results indicated that the cognitive representations of participants in the low stress breakup group were more clustered than those in the high stress breakup group . Post-hoc analysis of current distress over the breakup found that participants who were less able to accept the breakup rated the emotions and the behaviors associated with the relationship more similarly, had more aberrant cognitive representations of the relationship, had more intrusive thoughts about the breakup, and evidenced a greater use of cause and insight words when asked to describe their past relationship. Results are discussed in terms of cognitive theories of the structure of stressful memories and clinical theories of recovering from a stressful experience.
Date: 2002-03-14
Degree: PhD
Discipline: Psychology

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