Retrieval properties of negative vs. positive mental images and autobiographical memories in social anxiety: Outcomes with a new measure
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High (n=41) and low (n=39) socially anxious (SA) participants completed the Waterloo Images and Memories Interview (WIMI), a new assessment tool that measures the accessibility and properties of mental images and associated autobiographical memories that individuals may experience across both anxiety-provoking (negative) and non-anxiety-provoking (positive) social situations. Results indicated that both high and low SA individuals experience negative images and associated autobiographical memories in anxiety-provoking social situations, but the rates of endorsement of such images and memories among high SA participants were substantially lower than those reported in recent studies. Moreover, whereas low SA individuals were capable of accessing a relatively balanced array of both negative and positive self-representations that were rich in episodic detail, high SA individuals retrieved a higher, more unbalanced ratio of negative-to-positive images and memories, as well as impoverished positive images that were significantly degraded in episodic detail. Finally, negative images influenced the two groups differently, with high SA individuals experiencing more negative emotional and cognitive consequences associated with bringing such images to mind. These results are discussed in relation to theoretical models of learning and memory within the context of contemporary cognitive behavioral models of social anxiety.
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