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Hallford, D. J.; Austin, D. W.; Raes, F.; Takano, K. (2018): A test of the functional avoidance hypothesis in the development of overgeneral autobiographical memory. In: Memory & Cognition, Vol. 46, No. 6: pp. 895-908
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Overgeneral memory (OGM) refers to the failure to recall memories of specific personally experienced events, which occurs in various psychiatric disorders. One pathway through which OGM is theorized to develop is the avoidance of thinking of negative experiences, whereby cumulative avoidance may maladaptively generalize to autobiographical memory (AM) more broadly. We tested this, predicting that negative experiences would interact with avoidance to predict AM specificity. In Study 1 (N = 281), negative life events (over six months) and daily hassles (over one month) were not related to AM specificity, nor was avoidance, and no interaction was found. In Study 2 (N = 318), we revised our measurements and used an increased timeframe of 12 months for both negative life events and daily hassles. The results showed no interaction effect for negative life events, but they did show an interaction for daily hassles, whereby increased hassles and higher avoidance of thinking about them were associated with reduced AM specificity, independent of general cognitive avoidance and depressive symptoms. No evidence was found that cognitive avoidance or AM specificity moderated the effect of negative experiences on depressive symptoms. Our findings suggest that life events over 6-12 months are not associated with AM specificity, but chronic daily hassles over 12 months predict reduced AM specificity when individuals avoid thinking about them. The findings provide evidence for the functional-avoidance hypothesis of OGM development and future directions for longitudinal studies.