Overgeneral autobiographical memory in children and adolescents exposed to trauma

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Background and Aims: Early posttraumatic stress reactions are distressing and
disabling for a significant minority of children and young people. We aimed to
explore the relationship between posttraumatic stress reactions, cognitive variables implicated by an adult cognitive model of PTSD (Ehlers & Clark, 2000), and overgeneral autobiographical memory; a phenomenon linked to depression and trauma in adults, but rarely explored in children.
Methods: Emergency department attendees (aged 8-18) and their parents were
interviewed 2-6 weeks post-trauma. Children completed a diagnostic interview for acute stress disorder (ASD), and self-report depression and posttraumatic stress symptom severity questionnaires. Established statistical predictors of posttrauatmic
stress reactions were measured using child and parent self-report questionnaires. The Autobiographical Memory Test (AMT) (Williams & Broadbent, 1986) was used to assess overgeneral autobiographical memory (OGM).
Results: Among participants (N=43), 30.2% met ASD diagnostic criteria. Using
step-wise linear regression analysis; avoidance, negative appraisals and, to a lesser extent, rumination accounted for over two-thirds of the variance of posttraumatic stress symptom severity scores in our sample. Rumination and to a lesser extent negative appraisals together accounted for 80% of the variance of scores in depression severity scores. AMT performance did not contribute significantly to these models. However, those with greater depression symptom severity retrieved fewer specific memories in response to positive cue words on the AMT (p = .022).
Parental anxiety and depression did not significantly differ between ASD and non-
ASD groups. Findings regarding prior emotional and behavioural difficulties were
mixed. Conclusions: Avoidance, negative appraisals and rumination, variables identified in adult cognitive models relate to early responses to trauma in children. Overgeneral autobiographical memory appears less important in this respect, but findings remain tentative at this stage.
Date of AwardOct 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorPatrick Smith (Supervisor) & Richard Meiser-Stedman (Supervisor)

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