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The Role of Eye-Movements in Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: Eye-Movements Lower the Number of Intrusive Thoughts of Negative Memories

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posted on 2021-12-08, 11:12 authored by Patel, Gauranga Jeram

Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) was developed as a treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and involves the patient thinking about a traumatic event while simultaneously moving their eyes from side to side. Despite substantial support for the efficacy of EMDR questions remain regarding how eye-movements contribute to therapy. One explanation is that eye-movements tax a part of working memory known as the central executive; however, the exact mechanism involved is still unclear. Previous eye-movement research has focussed on self-ratings of vividness and emotionality of negative memories as the primary outcome measures. The focus of the current research was to examine the effect of eye-movements on the suppression of negative autobiographical memories in addition to vividness and emotionality. Non-clinical participants were asked to recall negative autobiographical memories and then verbally reported ratings of vividness and emotionality. In the eye-movement conditions, which varied by speed and direction of movement, eye-movements were stimulated using dots on a computer screen. Participants were then asked to avoid thinking of their memories, and intrusive thoughts were measured by pressing a computer key. Six experiments found that, overall, the effect of eye-movements on self-ratings was inconsistent, but that eye-movements reliably improved suppression of negative autobiographical memories. The findings also support the central executive explanation for the effectiveness of eye-movements in EMDR.


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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


McDowall, John; Wilson, Marc