Do meta-cognitive beliefs affect meta-awareness of intrusive thoughts about trauma?
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Background and Objectives People exposed to trauma often experience intrusive thoughts and memories about that event. Research examining people's responses to trauma assumes that people can accurately notice the occurrence of symptoms. However, we know from the broader cognitive literature on ‘mind-wandering’ that people are not always aware of their current focus of attention. That lack of awareness has implications for our theoretical and practical understanding of how trauma survivors recover from their experience. In the current study we investigated whether people's meta-cognitive beliefs about controlling trauma-related intrusions influenced the occurrence and meta-awareness of those intrusions. Methods We recruited participants who scored high (strong beliefs) or low (weak beliefs) on beliefs regarding the importance of controlling intrusive thoughts. Participants viewed a trauma film then—during a subsequent reading task—reported any film-related intrusions they noticed. We also intermittently asked half the participants to report what they were thinking at that particular moment, to “catch” intrusions without meta-awareness. Results People are not always aware of their trauma intrusions, and importantly, people with strong beliefs are more likely to notice trauma related intrusions both with and without meta-awareness than people with weak beliefs. Limitations We used an analogue trauma, and focused on a particular metacognitive belief, both of which somewhat limit generalizability. We also cannot definitively rule out demand effects. Conclusions Our data add to existing research showing people may lack meta-awareness of trauma-related thoughts, and suggest that survivors with particular metacognitive characteristics may be more vulnerable to ‘mind-wandering’ about trauma without awareness.
© 2016 Elsevier. This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/