The Impact of Imprisonment on Overgeneral Autobiographical Memory in Former Political Prisoners

Birgit Kleim*, James W. Griffith, Ira Gäbler, Matthias Schützwohl, Andreas Maercker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Traumatic experiences may dramatically influence later behavior and cognitive processing. This study investigated how trauma shapes the way that we remember personal experiences. Specifically, we investigated overgeneral autobiographical memory, which is the tendency to remember autobiographical events in an overgeneral rather than specific way. We administered the Autobiographical Memory Test (Williams & Broadbent,) to 86 survivors of political imprisonment 37 years after they had been released from imprisonment. Depression and posttraumatic stress disorder were not significantly related to overgeneral autobiographical memory. Significant overgeneral autobiographical memory correlates included embitterment, r = -.28, and being released to former East Germany, d = 0.67. Survivors with social support, r = .30 were better able to recall specific memories. Certain trauma characteristics and the way the trauma is processed may thus influence how personal memories are later remembered. This study also furthers the understanding of memory processes in political prisoners, who are not commonly studied in psychological research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)626-630
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Traumatic Stress
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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