Overgeneral and specific autobiographical memory predict the course of depression: An updated meta-analysis

D. J. Hallford, D. Rusanov, J. J.E. Yeow, T. J. Barry

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

37 Citations (SciVal)


Impairments in retrieving event-level, specific autobiographical memories, termed overgeneral memory (OGM), are recognised as a feature of clinical depression. A previous meta-analytic review assessing how OGM predicts the course of subsequent depressive symptoms showed small effects for correlations and regression analyses when baseline depressive symptoms were controlled for. We aimed to update this study and examine whether their findings replicate given the decade of research that has been published since. A systematic literature review using the same eligibility criteria as the previous meta-analysis led to a doubling of eligible studies (32 v. 15). The results provided more precise estimates of effect sizes, and largely support the finding that OGM predicts the course of depressive symptoms. The effects were generally small, but significantly larger among clinical samples, compared to studies with non-clinical samples. There was some evidence that higher age was associated with stronger effects, and longer follow-up was associated with weaker effects. The findings on other moderating variables that were analysed were mixed. Continued research into this modifiable cognitive process may help to provide an avenue to better understand and treat highly prevalent and impactful depressive disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)909-926
Number of pages18
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number6
Early online date20 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 20 Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The lead author received support for this research from Deakin University, as part of a 2020 Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellowship.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press.


  • Autobiographical memory specificity
  • course of depression
  • depression
  • meta-analysis
  • overgeneral memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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