Emotional processing and episodic memory.
The research reported within this dissertation investigates how individuals’ capacity to assimilate emotionally disruptive events is associated with particular features of episodic and autobiographical memory formation. It is inspired by Rachman’s (1980, 2001) formulation of emotional processing, and his subsequent proposals to explore the general mechanisms by which emotional disruptions are overcome. The specific rationale is informed by multilevel emotion theories, theories of post-traumatic stress disorder, and models of emotional processing. The research considered whether individuals who exhibit signs of a poor emotional processing style tend to encode events generally in a sensory-perceptual manner, with comparative deficits in their capacity to conceptually process data. Methodologically, the studies identify poor and effective emotional processors by using Baker et al.’s (2009) emotional processing scale as a grouping measure. The studies explore differences between groups of poor and effective emotional processors’ performance over a range of memory tasks drawn from episodic and autobiographical memory studies to detect evidence for a sensory- perceptual style of event and stimulus processing which is presumed to be indicated by a surfeit of perceptual details, heightened reported vividness, and a relative lack in conceptual ordering, narrative coherence and verbal indexing. Three general categories of memory are explored: memory for experimentally presented item lists, memory for extended narrative presentations and memory for naturally occurring events retained in long-term autobiographical memory representations. The evidence suggests a tendency to process in a sensory-perceptual manner amongst poor emotional processors for both experimental item lists, as well as in long term autobiographical memory investigations, whereas few differences between groups emerged for the study of narrative recollection. There was little evidence, by contrast, that effective emotional processors were superior at the conceptual processing of events or data. These results are discussed in terms of providing confirmation for information processing accounts of emotional disruptions and disorders which stress the aetiological significance in psychopathological conditions of how events are encoded, rendering such events accessible to broader autobiographical memory bases and conceptual elaboration. Furthermore, the importance of establishing more robust and testable definitions of conceptual processing is stressed.