The contribution of emotion on the effects of EMDR
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Background and objectives: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an effective therapy in reducing the impact of emotional autobiographical memories, in particular trauma memories. Effects of EMDR have been reproduced under laboratory conditions. It was consistently reported that making eye movements during recall of vivid and emotional autobiographical memories reduces their vividness and emotionality during later recall. However, in all lab studies hitherto emotional memories were studied. It is therefore unclear if the positive effects of eye movements are specific for emotional memories or if they occur also in vivid, but non-emotional memories. The Working Memory theory suggests that eye movements during recall reduces vividness of that memory during later recalls, irrespective of the emotionality of the memory. Insights from neurobiological science stress that emotions contribute to the (re)consolidation of memories. Based on these findings, a new theory 'the emotionality theory' suggests that effects of eye movements are bound to emotional memories and will not occur (or to a lesser degree) with emotionally neutral memories. Methods: The alteration in vividness and emotionality after making eye movements (EM) while recalling a memory, was compared between emotional- and neutral autobiographical memories. Participants were assigned to either the negative memory group or the neutral memory group in which they had to recollect two memories. Each participant completed two conditions: one of their memories was used for the Recall + EM condition and the other for the Recall-only condition. The order of conditions was counterbalanced and memories of both groups were matched on vividness. Results: In line with the emotionality theory, a significant reduction in vividness and emotionality emerges after Recall+EM with emotional memories, but not after Recall+EM with neutral memories. Conclusion: Emotion might be a crucial element in blurring the memory during EMDR.