Media exposure to trauma, psychotherapy, and false memories : a recipe for disaster? : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirement for the degree of Doctor of Clinical Psychology at Massey University, Manawatū, New Zealand

Thumbnail Image
Open Access Location
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Massey University
The Author
The proliferation of social media use in recent years has meant individuals are at increased risk of being exposed to images of real-life violence and trauma. This issue, along with growing concerns about the inaccessibility of formal psychological therapy, raises questions about the demand for computer-delivered therapeutic interventions. However, previous research has raised concerns about the potential for some therapeutic techniques to increase susceptibility to misinformation (e.g., Houben et al., 2018). In this thesis, I aimed to test the effects of a computerised trauma intervention on trauma memory vividness, emotional intensity, and susceptibility to misinformation. Experiment One describes novel procedures and materials for investigating misinformation effects in an online context. Participants (N = 99) completed the study online. They first watched a 10-minute video of a fictional school shooting. Between five and ten days later, they were randomly assigned to receive misinformation or no misinformation about the video before completing a recognition test. Misinformed participants were less accurate at discriminating between misinformation and true statements than control participants. This effect was most strongly supported by ROC analyses (Cohen’s d = 0.59, BF10 = 8.34). The study showed the misinformation effect can be established in an online experiment using candid violent viral-style video stimuli. The novel materials developed in Experiment One were employed in a second experiment to test the misinformation potential of Cognitive Bias Modification – Appraisal (CBM-App) training; a computerised trauma intervention. In Experiment Two, participants viewed the school shooting video and rated the vividness and emotionality of the video. They then received a post-trauma debrief via video before being randomly assigned to either complete the CBM-App training intervention or a control task. Participants again rated their memory vividness and emotionality. Five to ten days later, all participants re-rated their memory vividness and emotionality and then received misinformation about the trauma video. Lastly, participants completed a recognition test. Results showed CBM-App training successfully instilled a positive cognitive bias; however, the intervention had no effect on trauma memory vividness or emotionality. ROC analyses also demonstrated no effect of CBM-App training on susceptibility to misinformation. The present research raises questions about the efficacy of CBM-App training for reducing trauma-related distress. Moreover, findings suggest that while there is the potential for memory distortion in many therapeutic interventions, this may not be the case for CBM-App training. This research has implications for the CBM-App, misinformation, and trauma literature. It is hoped the present research provides a foundation for further research investigating therapeutic interventions and misinformation effects in an online trauma context.
Psychic trauma, Psychic trauma and mass media, Misinformation, Computer-assisted psychotherapy, False memory syndrome