Boelen, P. A., Huntjens, R. J. C., Deursen, D. S. van, & Hout, M. A. van den (2010). Autobiographical memory specificity and symptoms of complicated grief, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder following loss. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 41, 331-337.


This study examined the specificity and content of autobiographical memories among bereaved individuals. Self-report measures of bereavement-related distress and a standard and trait version of the Autobiographical Memory Test (AMT) were administered to 109 bereaved people. We examined associations of memory specificity with (a) demographic and loss-related variables and with (b) symptom-levels of complicated grief (CG), depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), (c) associations of the content of memories (related vs. unrelated to the loss/lost person) with symptoms, and (d) the degree to which associations of symptom-levels with memory specificity and content differed between the standard and trait version of the AMT. Findings showed that (a) memory specificity varied as a function of age, educational, and kinship; (b) reduced memory specificity was significantly associated with symptom-levels of CG, but not depression and PTSD; (c) symptom-levels of CG and PTSD were associated with a preferential retrieval of specific memories that were related to the loss/lost person on the standard AMT, whereas all three symptom-measures were associated with preferential retrieval of loss-related specific memories on the trait AMT; and (d) on the trait AMT, but not the standard AMT, symptom-measures remained significantly associated with a preferential retrieval of loss-related specific memories, when controlling for relevant background variables. Among other things, these results show that reduced memory specificity is associated with self-reported CG-severity but not depression and PTSD following loss. Moreover, the results are consistent with recent research findings showing that memories tied to the source of an individual's distress (e.g., loss) are immune to avoidant processes involved in the standard reduced specificity effect.