Contextual representations increase analogue traumatic intrusions: Evidence against a dual-representation account of peri-traumatic processing

David Graham Pearson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Background and objectives
Information processing accounts of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) state that intrusive memories emerge due to a lack of integration between perceptual and contextual trauma representations in autobiographical memory. This hypothesis was tested experimentally using an analogue trauma paradigm in which participants viewed an aversive film designed to elicit involuntary recollections.

Participants viewed scenes from the film either paired with contextual information or with the contextual information omitted. After viewing the film participants were asked to record for one week any involuntary intrusions for the film using a provided intrusions diary.

The results revealed a significant increase in analogue intrusions for the film when viewed with contextual information in comparison to when the film was viewed with the contextual information omitted. In contrast there was no effect of contextual information on valence ratings or voluntary memory for the film, or on the reported vividness and emotionality of the intrusions.

The analogue trauma paradigm may have failed to reproduce the effect of extreme stress on encoding that is postulated to occur during PTSD.

The findings have potential implications for trauma intervention as they suggest that the contextual understanding of a scene during encoding can be integral to the subsequent occurrence of traumatic intrusions. The pattern of results found in the study are inconsistent with dual-representation accounts of intrusive memory formation, and instead provide new evidence that contextual representations play a casual role in increasing the frequency of involuntary intrusions for traumatic material.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1026-1031
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Issue number4
Early online date21 Apr 2012
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2012


  • intrusive memories
  • analogue trauma
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • peri-traumatic processing
  • contextual representations


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