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RESEARCH

Our research is centered on investigations of mental imagery from a translational perspective. Mental imagery can take the form of thoughts, images, or both. In terms of psychopathology, we are interested in how intrusive mental imagery plays its critical role in anxiety and stress disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In PTSD, intrusive mental imageries force patients to relive the traumatic event via flashbacks. In these flashbacks, patients experience recurrent sensory images of the traumatic event as if it was happening at that present moment. These flashbacks maintain the patients’ trauma by forcing them to relive the traumatic incident.


We aim to elucidate the role of mental imagery in psychopathology and how intrusive mental imagery can be blocked to prevent the development of a mental disorder. More specifically, we are assessing and targeting mental imagery to understand which particular features of cognitive tasks are important for mental imagery (e.g. memory consolidation). Achieving a clearer understanding of what facets of cognition affect mental imagery will allow us to develop successful psychological interventions for treating anxiety disorders. 

 

Method

Trauma Film
We use the trauma film paradigm to gain a better understanding of how people react to psychological trauma. Designed to address some ethical challenges posed by real-life trauma studies, the trauma film paradigm is an experimental analog of a real-life traumatic event. Viewing the film has been shown to reliably induce symptoms such as intrusive memories of the film footage (James et al., 2016).


The 12-minute trauma film consists of 11 different clips involving graphic traumatic scenes (e.g. death, injury, or surgery). Participants are asked to view the film from a bystander perspective, imagining themselves at the scene watching the events unfold. Viewing the film serves as an experimental equivalent of viewing a traumatic event in real life. 

 

Questionnaires
The following self-report measures are used in our study: 

  1. Beck Depression Inventory (BDI-II; Beck, Steer, & Brown, 1996)  – a 21-item measure of depression, each rated on a scale of 0 to 3 (0 = least intense, 3 = most intense). Total scores range from 0 to 63, with higher scores indicating higher severity of depression (scores above 29 indicates severe depression). 

  2. The Form Y State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI-T; Spielberger, Gorsuch, Lushene, Vagg, & Jacobs, 1983)  – a 20-item measure of participant’s general propensity to anxiety, scored on a 4-point Likert scale from ‘almost never’ to ‘almost always’. Scores were added for anxiety-present items while reversed for anxiety-absent items. Total scores range from 20 to 80, with higher scores indicating greater levels of trait anxiety (i.e. more prone to anxiety in general).

  3. The Toronto Empathy Questionnaire (TEQ; Spreng, McKinnon, Mar, & Levine, 2009)  – a 16-item measure of empathy, each rated on a five-point scale from 'never' to 'often'. Scores are added for positively worded items while reversed for negatively worded items. Higher scores indicate higher empathic abilities.

  4. The Injustice Experience Questionnaire (IEQ; Sullivan et al., 2008)  – a 12-item measure of participant’s perceived injustice associated with injury, scored on a scale ranging from 0 (not at all) to 5 (all the time). Higher scores indicate higher levels of perceived injustice relating to injury. 

  5. Impact of Event Scale-Revised (IES-R; Weiss & Marmer, 1997)  – the ‘Intrusion’ subscale of the IES-R is administered to participants to measure the degree of distress experienced by participants after watching the film. Participants responded to 22 items in reference to the film (e.g. “Any reminder brought back feelings about the film”) by indicating how distressing each item had been for the past 7 days post-film. Items were rated on a five-point Likert scale from 0 (not at all) to 4 (extremely).

 

Questionnaires used in this study are available upon request. While we may be able to distribute some of the questionnaire used, some may not be available due to copyright restrictions. Please email lead researcher, Victor Kovalets, for access to these questionnaires.

 

Diary app
Participants are instructed to record any intrusive memories experienced within 7 days following film viewing.  
In previous studies, a pen-and-paper diary was used by participants to record these intrusive memories. However, a few issues were identified in relation to the use of a paper diary. For example, participants do not always carry their paper diary around with them, and thus were not able to record intrusions instantly. They may then forget to do so later. To mitigate the loss of data, we have developed a mobile diary application ‘Study Diary’ to offer greater access to the diary.


Participants use the diary app daily for a week, recording any mental intrusions experienced. The experimenter guides them through on a tutorial on the application and clearly defines what constitutes an intrusion. Participants are encouraged to give as much detail as possible about their intrusions. 


This app is freely available for download on Apple App Store or Google Play Store and can be used by any researcher interested to use it in their study. Researchers can manage their own accounts with a few simple steps. More information on the app can be found on our page in ‘The App’ tab.
 

 

References

  • Beck, A. T., Steer, R. A., & Brown, G. K. (1996). Manual for the Beck Depression Inventory-II. San Antonio, TX: Psychological Corp.

  •  James, E., Lau-Zhu, A., Clark, I., Visser, R., Hagenaars, M., & Holmes, E. (2016). The trauma film paradigm as an experimental psychopathology model of psychological trauma: intrusive memories and beyond. Clinical Psychology Review, 47, 106-142. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2016.04.010

  • Spielberger, C. D., Gorsuch, R. L., Lushene, R., Vagg, P. R., & Jacobs, G. A. (1983). Manual for State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

  • Spreng, R., McKinnon, M., Mar, R., & Levine, B. (2009). The Toronto Empathy Questionnaire: Scale Development and Initial Validation of a Factor-Analytic Solution to Multiple Empathy Measures. Journal Of Personality Assessment, 91(1), 62-71. doi: 10.1080/00223890802484381

  • Sullivan, M., Adams, H., Horan, S., Maher, D., Boland, D., & Gross, R. (2008). The Role of Perceived Injustice in the Experience of Chronic Pain and Disability: Scale Development and Validation. Journal Of Occupational Rehabilitation, 18(3), 249-261. doi: 10.1007/s10926-008-9140-5

  • Weiss, D. S, & Marmer, C. R. (1997). The Impact of Event Scale—revised. In J. P. Wilson & T. M. Keane (Eds.), Assessing psychological trauma and PTSD: A handbook for practitioners (pp. 399–411). New York, NY: Guilford Press.