Involuntary memories after a positive film are dampened by a visuospatial task: unhelpful in depression but helpful in mania?
Davies C., Malik A., Pictet A., Blackwell SE., Holmes EA.
Spontaneous negative mental images have been extensively researched due to the crucial role they play in conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder. However, people can also experience spontaneous positive mental images, and these are little understood. Positive images may play a role in promoting healthy positive mood and may be lacking in conditions such as depression. However, they may also occur in problematic states of elevated mood, such as in bipolar disorder. Can we apply an understanding of spontaneous imagery gained by the study of spontaneous negative images to spontaneous positive images? In an analogue of the trauma film studies, 69 volunteers viewed an explicitly positive (rather than traumatic) film. Participants were randomly allocated post-film either to perform a visuospatial task (the computer game 'Tetris') or to a no-task control condition. Viewing the film enhanced positive mood and immediately post-film increased goal setting on a questionnaire measure. The film was successful in generating involuntary memories of specific scenes over the following week. As predicted, compared with the control condition, participants in the visuospatial task condition reported significantly fewer involuntary memories from the film in a diary over the subsequent week. Furthermore, scores on a recognition memory test at 1 week indicated an impairment in voluntary recall of the film in the visuospatial task condition. Clinical implications regarding the modulation of positive imagery after a positive emotional experience are discussed. Generally, boosting positive imagery may be a useful strategy for the recovery of depressed mood.