Imagery Rescripting: The Impact of Conceptual and Perceptual Changes on Aversive Autobiographical Memories

Christien Slofstra, Maaike H Nauta, Emily A Holmes, Claudi L H Bockting

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BACKGROUND: Imagery rescripting (ImRs) is a process by which aversive autobiographical memories are rendered less unpleasant or emotional. ImRs is thought only to be effective if a change in the meaning-relevant (semantic) content of the mental image is produced, according to a cognitive hypothesis of ImRs. We propose an additional hypothesis: that ImRs can also be effective by the manipulation of perceptual features of the memory, without explicitly targeting meaning-relevant content.

METHODS: In two experiments using a within-subjects design (both N = 48, community samples), both Conceptual-ImRs-focusing on changing meaning-relevant content-and Perceptual-ImRs-focusing on changing perceptual features-were compared to Recall-only of aversive autobiographical image-based memories. An active control condition, Recall + Attentional Breathing (Recall+AB) was added in the first experiment. In the second experiment, a Positive-ImRs condition was added-changing the aversive image into a positive image that was unrelated to the aversive autobiographical memory. Effects on the aversive memory's unpleasantness, vividness and emotionality were investigated.

RESULTS: In Experiment 1, compared to Recall-only, both Conceptual-ImRs and Perceptual-ImRs led to greater decreases in unpleasantness, and Perceptual-ImRs led to greater decreases in emotionality of memories. In Experiment 2, the effects on unpleasantness were not replicated, and both Conceptual-ImRs and Perceptual-ImRs led to greater decreases in emotionality, compared to Recall-only, as did Positive-ImRs. There were no effects on vividness, and the ImRs conditions did not differ significantly from Recall+AB.

CONCLUSIONS: Results suggest that, in addition to traditional forms of ImRs, targeting the meaning-relevant content of an image during ImRs, relatively simple techniques focusing on perceptual aspects or positive imagery might also yield benefits. Findings require replication and extension to clinical samples.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0160235
Number of pages16
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 3-Aug-2016


  • Journal Article
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  • PTSD

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