Individual differences in spatial configuration learning predict the occurrence of intrusive memories

T. Meyer, T. Smeets, T. Giesbrecht, Cwem Quaedflieg, M. M. Girardelli, G. R. N. Mackay, H. Merckelbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


The dual-representation model of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD; Brewin, Gregory, Lipton, & Burgess, Psychological Review, 117, 210-232 2010) argues that intrusions occur when people fail to construct context-based representations during adverse experiences. The present study tested a specific prediction flowing from this model. In particular, we investigated whether the efficiency of temporal-lobe-based spatial configuration learning would account for individual differences in intrusive experiences and physiological reactivity in the laboratory. Participants (N = 82) completed the contextual cuing paradigm, which assesses spatial configuration learning that is believed to depend on associative encoding in the parahippocampus. They were then shown a trauma film. Afterward, startle responses were quantified during presentation of trauma reminder pictures versus unrelated neutral and emotional pictures. PTSD symptoms were recorded in the week following participation. Better configuration learning performance was associated with fewer perceptual intrusions, r = -.33, p < .01, but was unrelated to physiological responses to trauma reminder images (ps > .46) and had no direct effect on intrusion-related distress and overall PTSD symptoms, rs > -.12, ps > .29. However, configuration learning performance tended to be associated with reduced physiological responses to unrelated negative images, r = -.20, p = .07. Thus, while spatial configuration learning appears to be unrelated to affective responding to trauma reminders, our overall findings support the idea that the context-based memory system helps to reduce intrusions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)186-196
JournalCognitive Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


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