Degrading emotional memories induced by a virtual reality paradigm

Cuperus A.A., Laken M., Van den Hout M.A. & Engelhard I.M. (2016), Degrading emotional memories induced by a virtual reality paradigm, Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry 52: 45-50.

Background and objectives: In Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, a dual-task approach is used: patients make horizontal eye movements while they recall aversive memories. Studies showed that this reduces memory vividness and/or emotionality. A strong explanation is provided by working memory theory, which suggests that other taxing dual-tasks are also effective. Experiment 1 tested whether a visuospatial task which was carried out while participants were blindfolded taxes working memory. Experiment 2 tested whether this task degrades negative memories induced by a virtual reality (VR) paradigm.

Methods: In experiment 1, participants responded to auditory cues with or without simultaneously carrying out the visuospatial task. In experiment 2, participants recalled negative memories induced by a VR paradigm. The experimental group simultaneously carried out the visuospatial task, and a control group merely recalled the memories. Changes in self-rated memory vividness and emotionality were measured.

Results: The slowing down of reaction times due to the visuospatial task indicated that its cognitive load was greater than the load of the eye movements task in previous studies. The task also led to reductions in emotionality (but not vividness) of memories induced by the VR paradigm.

Limitations: Weaknesses are that only males were tested in experiment 1, and the effectiveness of the VR fear/trauma induction was not assessed with ratings of mood or intrusions in experiment 2.

Conclusions: The results suggest that the visuospatial task may be applicable in clinical settings, and the VR paradigm may provide a useful method of inducing negative memories.

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  • Virtual reality
  • Trauma film paradigm
  • EMDR
  • Working memory
  • Shape sorter