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Forgetting Bad Memories
It all depends on gender, personality, and how you cope.
Sometimes we prefer to forget. But how do we put negative memories behind us when they're always there in our rear-view mirror?
For men and women, what works seems quite similar, but what backfires can be dramatically different, according to a new study from the University of Illinois. Also, basic personality differences play a big part, says Florin Dolcos, U of I psychology professor. He conducted the study along with postdoctoral researcher Sanda Dolcos and University of Alberta postdoctoral researcher Ekaterina Denkova.
Researchers found that men who used “reappraisal” tended to remember more positive memories, while women had more positive emotions. Reappraisal means making an effort to think differently about your memories, which can help in dealing better with negative memories and embracing positive ones, Florin Dolcos says.
The team also looked at the coping strategy known as “suppression”—trying to blunt or hide negative emotions. For men, suppression had no effect on recalling either positive or negative memories. But for women, suppression actually made matters worse. Women who habitually use suppression methods were much more likely to recall negative memories and were more affected negatively by them.
Researchers used questionnaires and verbal cues to assess personality and to gather more than 100 autobiographical memories from each of the 71 participants—38 women and 33 men. In the process, they also found that men and women who were extroverted—gregarious and assertive—tended to remember a greater proportion of positive life events than more introverted subjects.
As might be expected, men who were high in neuroticism—the tendency to dwell on negative emotions, especially in times of stress—recalled a greater proportion of negative memories. Women who were high in neuroticism tended to return to the same negative memories again and again.
“Depressed people recollect those negative memories and feel sad,” he says. “As a result of feeling sad, the tendency is to have more negative memories. It's a vicious circle.”
By Doug Peterson
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