Episodic Life Stress and the Development of Overgeneral Autobiographical Memory to Positive Cues in Youth

  • Cope Feurer
  • Mary L. Woody
  • Aliona Tsypes
  • Katie L. Burkhouse
  • Katelynn Champagne
  • Brandon E. Gibb


Overgeneral autobiographical memory (OGM) has been established as a risk factor for depression in both youth and adults, but questions remain as to how OGM develops. Although theorists have proposed that the experience of stressful life events may contribute to the development of OGM, no studies have examined the impact of negative life events on prospective changes in OGM. The goal of the current study was to address this gap in the literature. Participants included 251 mothers and their biological children (aged 8–14 years old at the initial assessment). Using a multi-wave prospective design with assessments every 6 months for 2 years, we found that episodic life stress predicted prospective decreases in youths’ autobiographical memory specificity to positive, but not negative, cues. This study supports theories proposing that negative life events may contribute to the development of OGM, but suggest that, in youth, the impact of life stress on OGM may be specific to positive rather than negative memories.


Overgeneral autobiographical memory Life stress Depression 



This project was supported by National Institute of Child Health and Human Development grant HD057066 and National Institute of Mental Health grant MH098060 awarded to B.E. Gibb, and by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. DGE1144464 awarded to C. Feurer. Content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health or the National Science Foundation. We would like to thank Ashley Johnson, Lindsey Stone, Sydney Meadows, Michael Van Wie, Devra Alper, Eric Funk, Effua Sosoo, Andrea Hanley, and Anastacia Kudinova for their help in conducting assessments for this project.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All study procedures were approved by Binghamton University’s Institutional Review Board.

Informed Consent

Informed consent and assent were obtained from all mothers and children, respectively.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Affective Science, Department of PsychologyBinghamton University (SUNY)BinghamtonUSA
  2. 2.Western Psychiatric Institute and ClinicPittsburghUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA
  4. 4.Stony Brook University School of MedicineStony BrookUSA

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