Does Culture Influence How Depressed Individuals Remember Events?

Autobiographical memories (AM) are memories of a specific event occurring in one point in time, such as watching a particular movie last weekend or attending a friend’s birthday party at a specific restaurant. “When asked to retrieve a specific AM, depressed individuals are more likely than controls to produce categoric over-general memories, which are memories for collections of events (e.g., “going to the cinema”),” said Barbara Dritschel of the University of St. Andrews and lead author of a recent study examining how culture affects memory retrieval in depressed individuals. “These over-general AM retrieval patterns are seen as problematic because they are related to other difficulties, including poor social problem-solving, prolonged recovery from episodes of affective disorders, and poorer imageability of the future.” Identifying specific events from the past is especially difficult for people with depression and can hinder recovery as most talk therapies encourage clients to remember past events to work toward healing. Because this type of memory retrieval has only been examined in limited cultural samples, Dritschel and her colleagues from Chung Shan Medical University in Taiwan wanted to determine if the different cultural life views would elicit different retrieval patterns in depressed individuals from Europe and Asia.

The researchers used the CARFAX model which assesses AM retrieval through three specific mechanisms: capture and rumination, functional avoidance, and impaired executive control. They evaluated 15 Taiwanese individuals and 15 British individuals, all who were clinically depressed. They found that compared to non-depressed participants, the depressed individuals were more general in their AM retrieval. They also found that among the non-depressed individuals, the British participants were able to retrieve more AM than the Taiwanese individuals. “There is also ample evidence that rumination and avoidant coping contribute to over-general recall,” said Dritschel. “These maladaptive thinking and coping styles could also have contributed to the increased production of categoric memories that occurred for the depressed individuals from both cultural groups.”

Dritschel, B., Kao, C.-M., Astell, A., Neufeind, J., & Lai, T.-J. (2011, September 26). How Are Depression and Autobiographical Memory Retrieval Related to Culture?. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025293

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • cole


    October 11th, 2011 at 3:59 PM

    I don’t think that it is that much of a stretch to realize that culture not only effects how depressed individuals process their memories, but how anyone of that culture processes the things that they remember.

    Culture is a huge determining factor for who we are and what we are set to become. It is difficult to forget all of that when you are looking back on your life and reflecting on the life that you have led.

    There are just some things that are naturally going to be colored by our culture and the way in which we were raised. It is time to embrace those ways that our culture has influenced us and no longer be afraid of it.

  • CasZ


    October 12th, 2011 at 4:12 AM

    So if I am reading this right you are saying that culture influences just how specifically people remember their memories, and that those who are depressed have an even more difficult time making specifications about the things that have happened to them. So not only does culture play a role here but also the overall mental health and stability of the person.

  • A.Nel


    October 12th, 2011 at 10:16 AM

    Culturally I don’t think there is much difference between people.but I do think there would be difference in recollection by those who are depressed and those who are not.

    A depressed person would not be paying too much attention to things around him and so his recollection would not be as easy as for those without depression.

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