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Overgeneral autobiographical memory and psychopathology in adolescence

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posted on 23.11.2021, 21:36 by Gutenbrunner, Charlotte

Overgeneral autobiographical memory (OGM)—the tendency to report more general event memories when instructed to report specific past events—has been implicated in the development and maintenance of poor psychological functioning (Sumner, Griffith, & Mineka, 2010). One significant limitation of the OGM literature is that few studies have investigated associations between this memory bias and psychopathology in young people (Hitchcock, Nixon, & Weber, 2014a). Delineating associations between OGM and psychological functioning in adolescence can be argued particularly important, however, as symptoms of psychopathology increase steeply (Cicchetti & Toth, 1998). Specifically, longitudinal research with community youth is needed to clarify associations between OGM and psychological functioning before the onset of psychopathology. Accordingly, this thesis addressed three important gaps in the literature.  In the first study, we extend the field by testing whether OGM represents a marker of vulnerability for psychopathology (depression and anxiety) in community youth (N = 269) across three annual assessment points. Across the entire sample, OGM did not predict symptoms of depression or anxiety. For youth who engage in higher levels of rumination, OGM predicted increases in anxiety symptoms, but only across a single time lag. These findings demonstrate that OGM does not represent a risk factor for emerging psychopathology in community youth. Preliminary evidence suggests that OGM may interact with rumination to influence anxiety symptoms under some conditions.  The second study represents the first to test the predominant model of OGM—the CaR-FA-X model (Williams et al., 2007)—in its entirety and across four annual assessment points in community adolescents (N = 323). This theoretical account purports that three cognitive vulnerabilities (increased rumination and avoidance, and reduced executive control) foster OGM. Overall, findings from Study 2 suggest that the CaR-FA-X model has limited applicability in community youth. Increased avoidance predicted OGM, but this effect was limited to the final time lag and only emerged in the context of elevated longitudinal depression levels. Perhaps OGM represents a form of cognitive avoidance in youth when low mood persists for extended periods of time.  In the third, and final, study we extend the literature by investigating associations between OGM and event-specific memory detail in a sample of community youth (N = 96). We also examined similarities and differences in how these two facets of autobiographical recollection associate with symptoms of depression, anxiety, and rumination across three annual assessment points. We found that youth who reported more specific memories did not report more detailed event recollections. Moreover, memory specificity and detail embedded in specific memories did not shed light on changes in psychological functioning. Rather, we found transient evidence of decreases in memory specificity and detail as a function of higher anxiety and rumination. As effects were inconsistent across time, conclusions can only be made cautiously, however.  This thesis advances the field in several ways. The overarching patterns of findings across the three studies highlight that OGM does not represent an index of poor psychological functioning in community adolescents. The memory phenomenon did not predict increases in symptoms of depression or anxiety, nor did the three cognitive vulnerabilities that make up the CaR-FA-X model explain significant change in OGM. Moreover, OGM was not associated with biases in reporting of memory detail. Transient associations between OGM and psychological difficulties were found, but only in the context of heightened risk for psychopathology. Perhaps this style of remembering the past only has negative consequences for well-being in adolescence when it occurs alongside other cognitive and emotional problems.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970117 Expanding Knowledge in Psychology and the Cognitive sciences

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Psychology


Salmon, Karen; Jose, Paul