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© 2017 Purpose Autobiographical memory is crucial to goal attainment, thus it may influence coping with chronic illness. Autobiographical memory was investigated in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) and healthy people. Two contrasting hypotheses were tested. On the basis of Williams and colleagues’ model of overgeneral memories in depression, and the high co-morbidity between CFS/ME and depression, we predicted overgeneral autobiographical memories in the CFS/ME group. In contrast, on the basis of a postulated oversensitization of the central nervous system in the CFS/ME population and their amplified attention towards anything that might threaten their energy balance, such as activity, we predicted that autobiographical activity memories in CFS/ME would be more specific than in healthy controls. Methods We employed modified cued autobiographic recall in CFS/ME (N = 89) and healthy (N = 61) participants, who were asked to recall particular past events when they experienced happiness, pain, fatigue, or were physically active. Levels of psychological distress, rumination, and behavioural disengagement were assessed. Results CFS/ME participants recalled significantly more specific autobiographical memories of past physical activity, compared to healthy controls. Within the CFS/ME group, lower levels of ruminating about past activity were significantly related to greater specificity in recall of activity. Further, those CFS/ME participants who recalled more specific autobiographical activity memories reported significantly lower levels of behavioural disengagement. Conclusion CFS/ME individuals’ autobiographical memory for activity differs both from healthy individuals and the typical pattern found in depression. The effect of specific activity memories could be utilized in exercise-based treatment of CFS/ME.

Original publication




Journal article


Mental Health and Physical Activity

Publication Date





19 - 30