Traumatized samples have relative difficulty in generating specific autobiographical memories on a cue word task, compared to nonexposed controls. Simultaneously, trauma is associated with highly specific intrusive trauma memories in day-to-day life. Possibly, day-to-day intrusions and memories generated to cue words rely on different retrieval processes, with the former dependent on close associations between retrieval cues and specific memory representations (direct retrieval), and the latter on iterative retrieval cycles through a hierarchical memory system (generative retrieval). This study investigated this distinction using two versions of the cue word task, designed to promote generative and direct retrieval, respectively, in participants with or without a history of child sexual abuse (CSA). The data demonstrated that CSA participants were less specific than nonabused controls to generative retrieval cues, but this difference disappeared with direct retrieval cues. This interaction was stronger in CSA participants with relatively greater posttraumatic stress and remained significant when participants with past or current major depressive disorder were excluded and also when only those participants with corroborated CSA were included.
- autobiographical memory specificity
- childhood abuse