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BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Visuospatial working memory (WM) tasks performed concurrently or after an experimental trauma (traumatic film viewing) have been shown to reduce subsequent intrusive memories (concurrent or retroactive interference, respectively). This effect is thought to arise because, during the time window of memory consolidation, the film memory is labile and vulnerable to interference by the WM task. However, it is not known whether tasks before an experimental trauma (i.e. proactive interference) would also be effective. Therefore, we tested if a visuospatial WM task given before a traumatic film reduced intrusions. Findings are relevant to the development of preventative strategies to reduce intrusive memories of trauma for groups who are routinely exposed to trauma (e.g. emergency services personnel) and for whom tasks prior to trauma exposure might be beneficial. METHODS: Participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 2 conditions. In the Tetris condition (n = 28), participants engaged in the computer game for 11 min immediately before viewing a 12-min traumatic film, whereas those in the Control condition (n = 28) had no task during this period. Intrusive memory frequency was assessed using an intrusion diary over 1-week and an Intrusion Provocation Task at 1-week follow-up. Recognition memory for the film was also assessed at 1-week. RESULTS: Compared to the Control condition, participants in the Tetris condition did not report statistically significant difference in intrusive memories of the trauma film on either measure. There was also no statistically significant difference in recognition memory scores between conditions. LIMITATIONS: The study used an experimental trauma paradigm and findings may not be generalizable to a clinical population. CONCLUSIONS: Compared to control, playing Tetris before viewing a trauma film did not lead to a statistically significant reduction in the frequency of later intrusive memories of the film. It is unlikely that proactive interference, at least with this task, effectively influences intrusive memory development. WM tasks administered during or after trauma stimuli, rather than proactively, may be a better focus for intrusive memory amelioration.

Original publication




Journal article


J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry

Publication Date





25 - 33


Intrusive memory, Memory consolidation, Post-traumatic stress disorder, Tetris, Trauma film paradigm, Trauma prevention, Working memory task interference, Adolescent, Adult, Affect, Aged, Female, Humans, Male, Mental Recall, Middle Aged, Personality Inventory, Play and Playthings, Proactive Inhibition, Psychiatric Status Rating Scales, Recognition, Psychology, Self Report, Spatial Processing, Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic, Video Games, Young Adult