Intense and prolonged sadness is a defining feature of major depressive disorder (MDD). People with MDD often have difficulty changing their feelings of sadness or lessening the intensity of their emotions. Recalling positive memories can help people without depression to cope with sadness and improve their mood. However, previous research has found that this approach doesn’t work for people with depression, and instead, may make them feel even worse. Teaching people with depression to more effectively use positive memory recall as an emotion regulation strategy could improve current MDD treatments.
The current study examined a new program, “Positive Memory Enhancement Training” (PMET), as a method for improving the quality of positive memories among people with MDD. PMET is based on the idea that recalling positive memories in a vivid and specific manner can promote the “here-and-now” quality of the memories. We expected that improving the quality of positive memories may help participants to more easily relive the memories and more fully experience the positive emotions associated with them. PMET procedures were designed so that participants first experienced sadness by recalling a sad memory. This allowed participants to practice using positive memory recall to reduce sadness and improve their overall mood. The effects of PMET were then compared to a control condition where participants were asked to recall neutral memories.
Results indicated that PMET improved the quality of positive memories, including the specificity of memories and the extent to which participants were able to relive them in their mind. Recalling positive memories effectively reduced sadness and increased happiness, suggesting that individuals with major depression can learn to use this skill to cope with feelings of sadness or other negative emotions. Because this was the first study of PMET, future research should examine how long the effects of the training last and whether people can effectively use positive memory recall in real world settings to regulate negative emotions when they occur.
Read the full paper: Arditte Hall, K. A., De Raedt, R., Timpano, K. R., & Joormann, J. (in press). Positive Memory Enhancement Training for Individuals with Major Depressive Disorder. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. doi:10.1080/16506073.2017.1364291
Photo by: Makia Minich