Background and objectives: Several treatments are effective in reducing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. We tested the effectiveness of an experimental intervention that consists of elements from two of these: virtual reality (VR) exposure therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. The latter is characterized by a dual-task approach: the patient holds a traumatic memory in mind while simultaneously making voluntary eye movements, resulting in reduced vividness and emotionality of the traumatic memory. If the experimental intervention is effective, it could provide a useful approach for highly avoidant individuals. Methods: Participants recalled negative memories induced by a VR paradigm. The experimental group viewed VR screenshots that represented these negative memories while carrying out a dual-task. One control group recalled negative memories while carrying out the same dual-task (a standard dual-task condition) and another merely viewed the VR screenshots. Pre-to-post changes in self-rated memory vividness/emotionality were measured. Results: The results indicate that viewing a screenshot only was outperformed by both dual-task interventions in terms of reductions in vividness/emotionality. Furthermore, the dual-task interventions had a comparable impact on vividness, but the screenshot variant led to greater decreases in emotionality. Limitations: Changes in memory vividness/emotionality were only assessed shortly after the interventions and no measures of avoidance behavior were included in the study. Conclusions: Looking at an image in VR that represents a memory while carrying out a dual-task may be at least as effective as recalling the memory during the dual-task. Interestingly, visually supporting a negative memory does not seem to prevent memory degrading by dual-tasking.

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Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry: a journal of experimental psychopathology
Department of Psychology

Cuperus, A.A. (Anne A.), Laken, M. (Maarten), van Schie, K., Engelhard, I. M., & van den Hout, M. (2019). Dual-tasking during recall of negative memories or during visual perception of images: Effects on vividness and emotionality. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry: a journal of experimental psychopathology, 62, 112–116. doi:10.1016/j.jbtep.2018.10.003