My interest in stress and autobiographical memory was prompted in my undergraduate years. Overgeneral autobiographical memory is a common phenomenon in depression, where patients struggle with remembering specific (and particularly positive) memories from their lives. In my undergraduate thesis, I argued that despite studies were lacking, there were reasons to think that abnormal regulation of cortisol is a factor behind overgeneral memory in depression.
For my master’s thesis in Oslo, I found a research project on preventing relapse in depression, and was lucky enough to be hired as a research assistant. Two years went into planning a follow-up study of 60 patients in this project to test their autobiographical memory. During that time a high-profile study from the Developmental Psychopathology group in Cambridge was published that indicated a role for morning cortisol in overgeneral memory, and in onset of depression in adolescents.
I did an exchange to Oxford in the autumn of 2016 to work on my thesis. I was inspired by the critical and forward-thinking attitude of the people there, and decided to apply to study in Oxford or Cambridge. I was also enrolled in the Junior Researcher Programme at the time, which brought me to visit Cambridge. After a long year of applications, I was accepted by Cambridge. I was overwhelmed by receiving the Aker Scholarship which is funding my master’s degree.
I was now part of the Developmental Psychopathology group, an excellent environment for the research I was interested in. We found something unexpected: adolescents at risk of depression who remembered more specific positive memories had lower morning cortisol levels and improved mood across one year. It seemed that remembering specific positive memories had an important role in resilient responses to new challenges. In my project in Oslo, we found that a blunted cortisol response to awakening was related to overgeneral autobiographical memory in formerly depressed individuals. I wish to follow up these findings in my PhD.
For future research, we recently got funding to investigate cortisol, immune and brain responses to social stress in resilient and at-risk individuals. I will investigate the effect of the cortisol and immune response to stress on autobiographical memory in vulnerable and resilient young adults.
If you are interested in this line of research, or have any questions, please do get in touch.