Making eye movements during imaginal exposure leads to short-lived memory effects compared to imaginal exposure alone
A plethora of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) analogue studies has shown that, in the short term, making eye movements (EM) during brief imaginal exposure (“recall + EM”) blurs memories more than just imaginal exposure (“recall only”). Yet, results of the few studies that included a follow-up test are inconsistent. We improved this paradigm's ecological validity by including an extended intervention phase and multiple assessments per phase. We hypothesized that recall + EM results in larger immediate and 24 h reductions in memory vividness, negative valence, and distress than recall alone. We explored the persistence of the effects, as well as the predictive value of memory characteristics and individual differences.
Students (N = 100) selected a negative autobiographical memory and were randomized to recall + EM or recall alone; both interventions lasted 32 intervals of 24s. During the interventions they rated the memory after every four intervals.
After 4 × 24s intervention, recall + EM resulted in memory deflation, while recall only caused memory inflation. After the full intervention (i.e., 32 × 24s), both conditions resulted in immediate and 24 h reductions on all outcome measures. Crucially, memory effects in the recall + EM condition partially relapsed 24 h later, while the effects in the recall only condition persisted. Change patterns were hardly explained by predictive variables.
We used a non-clinical sample; replication in clinical samples is warranted.
Making EM during imaginal exposure leads to short-lived effects compared to imaginal exposure alone. However, EM may offer a response aid for those who avoid imaginal exposure.
van Veen, S. C., van Schie, K., van de Schoot, R., van den Hout, M. A., & Engelhard, I. M. (2019). Making eye movements during imaginal exposure leads to short-lived memory effects compared to imaginal exposure alone. Journal of behavior therapy and experimental psychiatry. DOI: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2019.03.001