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Memory control immediately improves unpleasant emotions associated with autobiographical memories of past immoral actions

Satish, Akul, Hellerstedt, Robin, Anderson, Michael C., Bergström, Zara M (2024) Memory control immediately improves unpleasant emotions associated with autobiographical memories of past immoral actions. Cognition and Emotion, . pp. 1-16. ISSN 1464-0600. (doi:10.1080/02699931.2024.2342390) (KAR id:105826)


The ability to stop unwanted memories from coming to mind is theorised to be essential for maintaining good mental health. People can employ intentional strategies to prevent conscious intrusions of negative memories, and repeated attempts to stop retrieval both reduces the frequency of intrusions and improves subsequent emotions elicited by those memories. However, it is still unknown whether memory control can improve negative emotions immediately, at the time control is attempted. It is also not clear which strategy is most beneficial for emotion regulation; clearing the mind of any thoughts of negative memories via direct suppression, or substituting memory recall with alternative thoughts. Here, we provide novel evidence that memory control immediately regulates negative emotions associated with autobiographical memories of morally wrong actions. Repeated control significantly improved negative emotions over time, regardless of the strategy used to implement control. Thought substitution involving either positive diversionary thinking or counterfactual thinking both induced positive feelings, whereas direct suppression neutralised emotions, regardless of whether memories were positive or negative. These empirical findings have implications for clinical practice as they indicate that memory control strategies could be effective emotion regulation methods for real-world intrusive memories.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1080/02699931.2024.2342390
Uncontrolled keywords: autobiographical memory; immoral memories; retrieval suppression; thought substitution; counterfactual thinking; emotion regulation
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Psychology
Funders: University of Kent (
Leverhulme Trust (
Medical Research Council (
SWORD Depositor: JISC Publications Router
Depositing User: JISC Publications Router
Date Deposited: 09 May 2024 10:24 UTC
Last Modified: 10 May 2024 10:53 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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