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It has long been noted that the emotional impact of an autobiographical memory is associated with the vantage perspective from which it is recalled (Freud, 1950). Memories recalled from a first-person "field" perspective are phenomenologically rich, while third-person "observer" perspective memories contain more descriptive but less affective detail (Nigro & Neisser, 1983). Although there is some evidence that depressed individuals retrieve more observer memories than non-depressed individuals (e.g., Kuyken & Howell, 2006), little is known of the cognitive mechanisms associated with observer memories in depression. At pre- and post-treatment, 123 patients with a history of recurrent depression completed self-report measures and the autobiographical memory task (AMT). Participants also indicated the vantage perspective of the memories recalled on the AMT. Observer memories were less vivid, older, and more frequently rehearsed. The tendency to retrieve observer perspective memories was associated with greater negative self-evaluation, lower dispositional mindfulness, and greater use of avoidance. Furthermore, participants who recalled more field perspective memories at pre-treatment had lower levels of post-treatment depression, controlling for pre-treatment levels of depression and trait rumination. We apply contemporary accounts from social and cognitive psychology, and propose potential mechanisms that link the tendency to retrieve observer perspective memories to depression.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





624 - 634


Adult, Affect, Aged, Cues, Depressive Disorder, Female, Generalization (Psychology), Humans, Male, Mental Recall, Middle Aged, Psychological Tests, Psychological Theory, Young Adult