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Vantage point in episodic memory : a cognitive and clinical investigation McIsaac, Heather Kathleen

Abstract

People can take different points of view when recalling prior events. On the one hand, they can adopt a field vantage point in which they mentally reinstate the memory as if reliving the experience through their own eyes. On the other hand, they can recall the memory as if they were an outside observer watching themselves in the remembered scene. This thesis used two experiments - one with normal adults in a controlled laboratory setting and another with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients - to examine whether the selection of a particular mental vantage point impacts the contents of one's memory for personal events. To create an episode for recall, participants performed several tasks and then were asked to recall this episode from either the field or the observer vantage point. Following recall, participants indicated how the specified vantage point affected their memory. Two coders analyzed participants' tape-recorded recollections using a scoring key containing a priori content categories on which the vantage point memories were predicted to differ. Participants' recollections differed as a function of vantage point with field memories containing more information about how they felt - emotionally, physically, psychologically during the task and observer memories focusing more on their actions and appearance, and object locations. The same analyses were used to assess the memories of a group of patients who met criteria of PTSD. Unlike the laboratory experiment wherein participants were randomly assigned to one of the vantage point groups, here each PTSD patient was allowed to recollect their traumatic experience from the perspective they would naturally choose to use. The analysis of the trauma memories revealed differences in memory contents as a function of vantage point similar to those found in the laboratory experiment: field memories contained more statements about affective reactions, physical sensations, and psychological states during the trauma, while observer memories included more information about object locations and descriptions of the patients watching themselves in the scene. Additionally, observer memories in the PTSD sample included more information peripheral to the traumatic event. The discussion focuses on the implications of these results and prospects for future research.

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