Repression-Sensitization, Verbal Mediation, and Recall As Components of Motivated Forgetting: An Analog for Memory Changes Following Trauma

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Charles D. Noblin

Advisor Department



This study investigated the phenomenon of memory disruption surrounding traumatic events utilizing a learning paradigm in which participants, who had been identified as Repressers or Sensitizers, learned 10 A-B paired associates from the Russell-Storms paired associates list, then learned D associates, three of which were also paired with a traumatic stimulus (critical pairs), and were then tested for recall of the original A-B pair. The participants were undergraduates, 20 men and 20 women, at the University of Southern Mississippi. Wilcoxon matched-pairs signed-ranks tests were used to analyze all of the data. Analysis of the pooled data indicated that the recall of the critical D associates was significantly higher than the noncritical D associates (z = $-$5.23, p =.000), whereas the posttest recall of the critical B associates was significantly lower (z = $-$2.16, p =.015) than the noncritical B words. Analysis of the repressers' data indicated that recall of critical B words was significantly lower than their recall of noncritical B words (z = $-$1.95, p =.025), and the sensitizers' data indicated that the recall of the critical B words was not significantly different from the recall of the noncritical B words, (z = $-$.88, p =.37). The results of this study imply that the recall of associated items can be disrupted by pairing a disturbing event with one of the items, which supports current and traditional supposition that people deal with unpleasant memories by forgetting the whole, or parts of the whole, event, which has relevance for stress disorder research and eyewitness testimony. Severity of the stressor emerged as a factor in the degree of memory disruption. Personal styles of repression and sensitization did not appear to influence level of recall. While motivated forgetting may be an appropriate analog for the concept of repression, the present study suggests that it may be more applicable to events preceeding the traumatic event than to the actual event itself.