Identifying the Most Effective Strategies for Improving Autobiographical Memory Specificity and Its Implications for Mental Health Problems: A Meta-analysis

  • Sayedhabibollah Ahmadi ForooshaniEmail author
  • Kate Murray
  • Zahra Izadikhah
  • Nigar Khawaja
Original Article


The purpose of this study was to evaluate and compare the efficacy of psychological interventions, used to enhance autobiographical memory specificity, on their therapeutic targets. A systematic search identified 22 studies with 27 therapeutic effect sizes meeting the criteria for inclusion. The results showed that the aggregated effect size for all included interventions was computed as g = 1.08, p < 0.001, 95% CI [0.72, 1.44] for post-test assessments of autobiographical memory specificity, and g = 0.78, p < 0.001, 95% CI [0.44, 1.13] for the follow-up assessments. No significant moderating effects were found for number of sessions and age in post-test and follow-up assessments. However, the duration of follow-up assessments significantly moderated the effects of the interventions on autobiographical memory specificity (b = − .17, p = 0.01). Medium to large aggregated effect sizes were computed for improving depressive symptoms (g = 0.34, p < 0.01), life satisfaction (g = 0.80, p < 0.05), and executive function (g = 1.03, p < 0.01) for post-test assessments. At follow-up, no significant effects were found for the included mental health outcomes. Based on the results, Memory Specificity Training can be suggested as the most effective short-term intervention for improving the specificity of autobiographical memory. However, the results of this meta-analysis challenge the recommendation of using autobiographical memory-based interventions as standalone therapies to improve mental health problems. Moreover, the lack of a sufficient number of high quality RCT studies is a major gap in this research field. The implications for future studies are discussed.


Autobiographical memory specificity Meta-analysis Mental health Psychological intervention 



This research did not receive any specific Grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Sayedhabibollah Ahmadi Forooshani, Kate Murray, Zahra Izadikhah and Nigar Khawaja declare no conflict of interest.

Research Involving Human Participants and/or Animals

No human or animal studies were carried out by the authors for this article.


*References marked with asterisk are studies included in the meta-analysis

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sayedhabibollah Ahmadi Forooshani
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kate Murray
    • 1
  • Zahra Izadikhah
    • 2
  • Nigar Khawaja
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Psychology and CounsellingQueensland University of Technology (QUT)BrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.School of Psychology and CounsellingUniversity of Southern Queensland (USQ)ToowoombaAustralia

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