Side effects of induced lateral eye movements during aversive ideation

A. Leer, I.M. Engelhard*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background and objectives: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder. It uses a dual-task approach, in which patients recall an aversive memory while making lateral eye movements. Research has shown that this ‘eye movements’ intervention reduces subjective memory vividness and emotionality. This study examined whether it also reduces memory accuracy on a visual discrimination task.

Methods: Participants (68 undergraduates) underwent an aversive conditioning phase, in which two pictures of male faces were followed by shock. Then they recalled one face with (experimental condition) and one without (control condition) making lateral eye movements. Finally, they completed a stimulus discrimination test with slightly different faces shortly after the intervention and one day later.

Results: Results showed that the eye movements intervention led to increased false-positive rates one day later.

 Limitations: Our intervention targeted newly formed memory rather than consolidated memory.

Conclusions: The results inform theory about EMDR's mechanisms of change and suggest that the treatment may have side effects regarding memory accuracy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101566
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020


  • EMDR
  • False-positives
  • Lateral eye movements
  • Memory accuracy
  • Memory performance


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