As we have discussed above, in definitional terms repressors do not differ from low-anxious participants on scores on anxiety measures (e.g., the Speilberger State Trait Anxiety Inventory; Spielberger et al., 1970). This has clear implications for the research on information-processing biases and anxiety discussed in Chapter 6 on fear; namely that the supposed low-anxious participants in those research studies, because they are selected on the basis of self-report questionnaire measures, are likely to include individuals who are not genuinely low-anxious but are in fact so-called repres-sors. These implications are few if there are no information-processing or cognitive-processing differences between repressors and genuine low-anxious individuals; however, a number of experimental investigations have shown that this is not the case.
Research in this area was pioneered by Penny Davis and her colleagues (e.g., Davis & Schwartz, 1987; Davis, 1987; Davis, 1990; Davis, Singer, Bonanno, & Schwartz, 1988). In the first of these studies (Davis & Schwartz, 1987) participants were asked to free-recall personal experiences from childhood. Repressors recalled fewer negative memories than controls. Furthermore, the age of the participant at the time of the first negative memory recalled was substantially greater in the repressor group. Similar findings in studies in which response bias has been ruled out in various ways have been reported by Davis (1987), Davis et al. (1988), and by Myers (Myers & Brewin, 1994; Myers, Brewin, & Power, 1992; Myers & Derakshan, 2004).
As with all autobiographical memory tasks, the question arises as to whether the repressors actually experienced fewer negative events in childhood or are merely failing to remember them. Lynn Myers (Myers, 1993; Myers & Brewin, 1994; Myers et al., 1992) examined this question by using semi-structured interviews with groups of repressors and controls in which participants were asked detailed questions about their childhood. She found that repressors' accounts of their childhood were more likely to be characterised by paternal antipathy and indifference, and that the repres-sors were less likely to record an emotionally or physically close relationship with their fathers. It seems, then, that repressors do have negative events in their autobiographical past, but that access to those events is difficult in simple recall scenarios. Myers (Myers, Brewin, & Power, 1998) has further demonstrated a possible mechanism for this effect through the use of the directed forgetting task in which participants are instructed to forget a set of words that they are subsequently asked to recall. This task showed greater inhibition of to-be-forgotten negative trait adjectives than positive adjectives in the repressor group, thereby demonstrating a retrieval inhibition effect for negative self-related material in repressors.
In addition to research investigating mnemonic biases in repressors, there are a number of studies that have looked at attentional processes. For example, Fox (1993) used the attentional deployment paradigm of MacLeod et al. (1986) to investigate the allocation of attention in groups of repressors and controls. This paradigm is described in detail in Chapter 6. Fox's results showed that high-anxious participants seem to shift their attention towards socially threatening words whereas repressors shifted their attention away from such words and the low-anxious participants showed no consistent biases. Similar findings were reported by Derakshan and Eysenck (2001). Consistent results have also been obtained using a dichotic-listening methodology (Bonnano, Davis, Singer, & Schwartz, 1991), the modified Stroop task (Dawkins & Furnham, 1989), and a negative priming task (Fox, 1994). Taken together, these studies suggest that repressors are able to actively orientate their attention away from unwanted material and, furthermore, that there is an automatic attentional bias which serves to screen out socially threatening material.
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