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New study suggests a better way to deal with bad memories
Date:4/18/2014

What's one of your worst memories? How did it make you feel? According to psychologists, remembering the emotions felt during a negative personal experience, such as how sad you were or how embarrassed you felt, can lead to emotional distress, especially when you can't stop thinking about it.

When these negative memories creep up, thinking about the context of the memories, rather than how you felt, is a relatively easy and effective way to alleviate the negative effects of these memories, a new study suggests.

Researchers at the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois, led by psychology professor Florin Dolcos of the Cognitive Neuroscience Group, studied the behavioral and neural mechanisms of focusing away from emotion during recollection of personal emotional memories, and found that thinking about the contextual elements of the memories significantly reduced their emotional impact.

"Sometimes we dwell on how sad, embarrassed, or hurt we felt during an event, and that makes us feel worse and worse. This is what happens in clinical depressionruminating on the negative aspects of a memory," Dolcos said. "But we found that instead of thinking about your emotions during a negative memory, looking away from the worst emotions and thinking about the context, like a friend who was there, what the weather was like, or anything else non-emotional that was part of the memory, will rather effortlessly take your mind away from the unwanted emotions associated with that memory. Once you immerse yourself in other details, your mind will wander to something else entirely, and you won't be focused on the negative emotions as much."

This simple strategy, the study suggests, is a promising alternative to other emotion-regulation strategies, like suppression or reappraisal.

"Suppression is bottling up your emotions, trying to put them away in a box. This is a strategy that can be effective in the short term, but in the lon
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Contact: August Cassens
acassens@illinois.edu
217-300-4181
Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology
Source:Eurekalert  

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