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Memory of a traumatic event becomes consolidated within hours. Intrusive memories can then flash back repeatedly into the mind's eye and cause distress. We investigated whether reconsolidation-the process during which memories become malleable when recalled-can be blocked using a cognitive task and whether such an approach can reduce these unbidden intrusions. We predicted that reconsolidation of a reactivated visual memory of experimental trauma could be disrupted by engaging in a visuospatial task that would compete for visual working memory resources. We showed that intrusive memories were virtually abolished by playing the computer game Tetris following a memory-reactivation task 24 hr after initial exposure to experimental trauma. Furthermore, both memory reactivation and playing Tetris were required to reduce subsequent intrusions (Experiment 2), consistent with reconsolidation-update mechanisms. A simple, noninvasive cognitive-task procedure administered after emotional memory has already consolidated (i.e., > 24 hours after exposure to experimental trauma) may prevent the recurrence of intrusive memories of those emotional events.

Original publication

DOI

10.1177/0956797615583071

Type

Journal article

Journal

Psychol Sci

Publication Date

08/2015

Volume

26

Pages

1201 - 1215

Keywords

computer game, emotion, intrusions, intrusive memory, involuntary memory, mental imagery, open data, open materials, reconsolidation, trauma film, Adolescent, Adult, Emotions, Female, Humans, Male, Memory, Episodic, Mental Recall, Middle Aged, Self Report, Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic, Video Games, Young Adult