Autobiographical Memory Impairments as a Transdiagnostic Feature of Mental Illness: A Meta-Analytic Review of Investigations Into Autobiographical Memory Specificity and Overgenerality Among People With Psychiatric Diagnoses

Tom J. Barry, David J. Hallford, Keisuke Takano

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Abstract

Decades of research has examined the difficulty that people with psychiatric diagnoses have in recalling specific autobiographical memories of events that lasted less than a day. Instead, they seem to retrievegeneral events that have occurred many times or which occurred over longer periods of time, termedovergeneral memory. We present the first transdiagnostic meta-analysis of memory specificity/overgeneralityand the first meta-regression of proposed causal mechanisms. A keyword search of Embase,PsycARTICLES, and PsycINFO databases yielded 74 studies that compared people with and withoutpsychiatric diagnoses on the retrieval of specific (k = 85) or general memories (k = 56). The majority ofstudies included participants with Major Depressive Disorder (∼49%), Schizophrenia (∼19%), andPosttraumatic Stress Disorder (∼17%) with few studies involving other groups of participants, for example,Anxiety Disorders (∼5%). Multilevel meta-analysis confirmed that people with psychiatric diagnosestypically recall fewer specific, g = −0.864, 95% CI [−1.030, −0.698], and more general, g = 712,95% CI [0.524, 0.900], memories than diagnoses-free people. The size of these effects did not differbetween diagnostic groups. There were no consistent moderators of effect size heterogeneity; effect sizeswere not explained by methodological factors such as cue valence or demographic variables such asparticipants’ age or between-group differences in process variables (e.g., rumination). Deficits in autobiographicalmemory retrieval may be a transdiagnostic factor, but further research in underrepresenteddiagnostic groups, and with novel experimental manipulations of encoding and retrieval processes, iswarranted before full transdiagnosticity and the processes underlying reduced specificity/overgeneralitycan be established

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1054-1074
Number of pages21
JournalPsychological Bulletin
Volume147
Issue number10
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The data, their associated analysis scripts, and other supplementary tables and figures are available online at https://osf.io/3rjuz or https://doi.org/10.17605/OSF.IO/3RJUZ

Keywords

  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Depression
  • Episodic memory
  • Schizophrenia
  • Trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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