Who wrote that? Automaticity and reduced sense of agency in individuals prone to dissociative absorption

Who wrote that? Automaticity and reduced sense of agency in individuals prone to dissociative absorption

Consciousness and Cognition 78 (2020) 102861 Contents lists available at ScienceDirect Consciousness and Cognition journal homepage: www.elsevier.co...

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Consciousness and Cognition 78 (2020) 102861

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Consciousness and Cognition journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/concog

Who wrote that? Automaticity and reduced sense of agency in individuals prone to dissociative absorption

T



Noa Bregman-Haia, , Yoav Kesslera,b, Nirit Soffer-Dudeka a b

The Department of Psychology, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva 8410501, Israel Zlotowski Center for Neuroscience, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel

A R T IC LE I N F O

ABS TRA CT

Keywords: Dissociation Absorption Automatic writing Autobiographical memory Sense of agency Automaticity

Dissociative absorption (DA) is a tendency to become completely immersed in a stimulus while neglecting to attend to one’s surroundings. Theoretically, DA implies automatic functioning in areas that are outside the focus of attention. This study examined whether high absorbers indeed act more automatically, i.e., with decreased meta-consciousness for, and therefore poor memory of, their own actions, along with reduced sense of agency (SoA). High and low absorbers (N = 63) performed three DA-promoting tasks: choice-reaction time (CRT), Tetris, and free writing. Participants were tested on memory of task details and self-reported their state SoA. As hypothesized, trait DA was correlated with impaired autobiographical memory for self-generated writing. However, DA was not related to episodic memory disruptions in externally-generated content tasks (Tetris, CRT). In most tasks, DA was associated with decreased SoA. Absorbers’ specific difficulty in identifying self-generated content suggests that their memory failures stem from reduced accessibility to self-actions and intentions.

1. Introduction Dissociative ‘absorption and imaginative involvement’ is a tendency for one’s awareness to become totally engaged in an internal or external stimulus at the expense of being oblivious to one’s surroundings (Carlson et al., 1993; Soffer-Dudek, Lassri, Soffer-Dudek, & Shahar, 2015). Dissociative absorbers may report that they are operating on “auto-pilot” (e.g., driving without awareness of the road) or immersed in daydreaming and fantasy. The present study explored whether individual differences in the subjective (selfreported) experience of dissociative absorption (DA) predict differences in objective performance that may suggest a more automatic and less agentic functioning. As we will describe below, we view DA as a state of decreased meta-consciousness (MC), and we examine whether those high in DA are indeed characterized by decreased MC regarding surrounding stimuli as well as self-generated content. 1.1. Dissociative absorption and closely related concepts Before presenting our hypotheses about DA, we will first dwell on the definition of this concept and on the differences between DA and related constructs. Dissociation is defined as a disruption or discontinuity in the normal integration of psychological functions, i.e., consciousness, memory, identity, emotion, perception, body representation, motor control, and behavior (American Psychiatric

⁎ Corresponding author at: The Consciousness and Psychopathology Laboratory (directed by Dr. Nirit Soffer-Dudek), Department of Psychology, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva 84105, Israel. E-mail addresses: [email protected] (N. Bregman-Hai), [email protected] (Y. Kessler), soff[email protected] (N. Soffer-Dudek).

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2019.102861 Received 30 June 2019; Received in revised form 8 December 2019; Accepted 9 December 2019 1053-8100/ © 2019 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Association, 2013), and it is also expressed as detachment from bodily sensations by somatoform symptoms (Nijenhuis, 2008). The psychological manifestation of dissociation is usually assessed by the widely-used Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES; Carlson et al., 1993). Factor analyses on the DES often identify two additional subscales other than DA: (1) depersonalization-derealization (a feeling of detachment from oneself or the world) and (2) dissociative amnesia (difficulty in recalling autobiographical information). Although DA is often considered to represent “non-pathological” (i.e., common and benign) dissociation, it is highly correlated with the other, “pathological” subscales (Levin & Spei, 2004; Soffer-Dudek et al., 2015; Stockdale, Gridley, Balogh, & Holtgraves, 2002), implying that these experiences do seem to share underlying mechanisms. Moreover, DA is related to psychopathology, stress, and obsessive-compulsive symptoms (Levin & Spei, 2004; Soffer-Dudek, 2017; Soffer-Dudek et al., 2015), and thus, it may possibly be more accurate to refer to it as “common dissociation” rather than “non-pathological dissociation” (Soffer-Dudek, 2017). Notably, the construct of “absorption” is usually measured with the Tellegen Absorption Scale (TAS; Tellegen & Atkinson, 1974). In our view, however, it is not synonymous with DA, which we measured with the DES. Specifically, Tellegen and Atkinson defined absorption as a tendency to allocate “total attention” to a certain stimulus, an inclination that results in a heightened sense of the reality of the attentional object, imperviousness to distracting events, and an altered sense of reality in general. This definition is, indeed, very similar to the definition of DA. However, an in-depth look at the items of each questionnaire indicates that the TAS and the absorption scale of the DES measure slightly different constructs, as the TAS items refer both to expansion and narrowing of the attention field (Kihlstrom, 2017), including items that do not directly represent dissociation (e.g., “I think I really know what some people mean when they talk about mystical experiences”, “I can be greatly moved by eloquent or poetic language”, or “Textures—such as wool, sand, wood—sometimes remind me of colors or music”), whereas DES absorption only describes narrowing. Thus, DES absorption seems to be the common counterpart of the splitting of consciousness that characterizes clinical-level dissociation. In line with this stance, Butler (2006) suggested that pathological and “non-pathological” dissociation (the latter, according to Butler, refers to experiences of absorption, daydreaming, or fantasy) “both involve a telescoping of the attentional field to concentrate on a narrow range of experience and the concomitant exclusion of other material (internal or external) from awareness and, to some degree, from accessibility” (p. 45). This narrowing of the field of consciousness aligns with the psychological doctrine of Pierre Janet, one of the early researchers of dissociation and probably the most prominent one. Specifically, Janet suggested that an individual tendency for a routinely restricted field of consciousness is highly related to dissociation and is one of the characteristics of hysteria, alongside dissociation (Craparo, Ortu, & Van der Hart, 2019; Dell, 2009; Heim & Bühler, 2011; Van der Hart & Horst, 1989). The assumed distinction between DA and the TAS is supported by studies conducted on non-clinical populations that found only moderately strong correlations between the TAS and the DA scale of the DES (Frischholz et al., 1991; Levin & Spei, 2004; Smyser & Baron, 1993) and by evidence from patients with dissociative disorders, who differed from PTSD non-dissociative patients in their DA scores but not in their TAS scores (Simeon, Giesbrecht, Knutelska, Smith, & Smith, 2009). These findings indicate that the two questionnaires are highly related but not identical and that the relations of DA to other types of dissociation are higher than that of the TAS. Since dissociation is at the core of this study, we chose to use the DA measure. However, this study was part of a broader project that examined DA in the context of several related variables. Thus, we had the opportunity to calculate correlations between DA, TAS absorption, and additional measures of dissociation. The relationship between these indices will be discussed in the results section. Despite the approach mentioned above, which considers DA to be an aspect of dissociation, it should be noted that there is no consensus in the literature on this issue. Specifically, the structural dissociation approach holds that dissociation is a trauma-related disorder, characterized by structural division of the personality into different parts, some of which are detached from the emotional experience of the trauma, and thus, they enable everyday functioning, whereas other, emotional parts, are fixed in the traumatizing experience (Nijenhuis, 2015; Steele, Dorahy, Van der Hart, & Nijenhuis, 2009; Van der Hart, Nijenhuis, & Steele, 2006; Van der Hart, Nijenhuis, Steele, & Brown, 2004). According to this position, absorption, altered time sense, spaciness, daydreaming or imaginative involvement are mistakenly considered to represent dissociation, but in fact, they reflect alterations in consciousness, a related but different concept. Researchers of the structural approach also oppose the dimensional conceptualization of dissociation as a continuum ranging from normative experiences to pathological ones. Our approach differs from the structural approach, as we do opine that DA reflects dissociation. This assumption relies on several studies conducted on patient groups, wherein the scores of the DA scale of the DES were highly correlated with dissociative disorders (Leavitt, 1999, 2001; Simeon et al., 2009). Following his findings, Leavitt (1999) suggested: “Normal dissociative experiences are correlates of dissociative pathology. Their prominence is not random among patients with known dissociative disorders. Though somewhat counterintuitive, the constellation of normal dissociative experiences are prominently elevated in all the dissociative disorders and locate cases on a continuum of dissociative severity, peaking in the DID spectrum” (p. 437). Although we dissent from the definition of DA as normal dissociation, we accept Leavitt’s general interpretation. In our opinion, dissociation can be conceptualized continuously, across a scale that represents the degree to which the individual experiences his or her personality as fragmented. We assume that the trait of DA may be a diathesis, enabling pathological dissociation of the personality to occur following severe trauma. In any case, we think it is important to investigate the possibility of shared mechanisms in the development of DA and the structural dissociation of one’s personality. The present study constitutes a preliminary step in this direction, as it examines whether DA is correlated with lower accessibility to self-generated content. 1.2. Dissociative absorption and automaticity Both in approaches that emphasize the traumatic nature of dissociation and in those that offer a different etiology, dissociation is theoretically associated with automaticity; Kihlstrom (1987), for example, noted that dissociative phenomena are related to the automatization of cognitive and motoric procedures, and similarly, Somer (2004) conceptualized automaticity as a main feature of “normative dissociative abilities”, i.e., DA. Still, and although DA is the subscale that carries most of the weight of the DES total score 2

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(Soffer-Dudek et al., 2015; Stockdale et al., 2002), automaticity has not received much attention in modern, empirical, dissociation research. Dissociative automaticity was first studied in the nineteenth century, prominently by Pierre Janet (Hilgard, 1986; Janet, 1889; Janet & Prince, 1907; Van der Hart & Horst, 1989), who noticed that hysterical dissociative patients were able to separate complex processes, such as writing, from their stream of consciousness. He referred to this phenomenon as “automatic writing”. Although automatic writing has not been studied in relation to dissociation in contemporary research, it has been studied in the context of hypnosis, a closely related phenomenon. Specifically, hypnotizable subjects experienced storytelling under hypnosis as effortless (Bowers, 1979) and produced automatic writing more easily than non-hypnotizables (Hilgard, 1986). Additionally, highly hypnotically suggestible participants experienced reduction of a sense of control and of ownership of their thoughts and movements in a sentence completion task that modeled automatic writing (Walsh et al., 2014). Automatic writing has been claimed to be quite common (Boice & Meyers, 1986), and in fact, some evidence suggests that with suitable guidelines, almost anyone can write automatically (Burgess et al., 1998). Thus, it is possible that, rather than being merely a manifestation of an extreme dissociativehysterical symptom, automatic writing may also represent a tendency for common dissociation. Different theoreticians have suggested various attributes to identify an automatic process. Although several different attributes have been suggested, the features of uncontrollability, unconsciousness, efficiency (i.e., a process that requires little attentional resources) and speed are widely accepted as markers of automaticity (Bargh, 1994; Moors, 2016; Moors & De Houwer, 2006). There are several views regarding the relationship between these features. The “all or nothing” approach holds that for a process to be automatic, it must include all of these attributes; In other words, there must be perfect agreement between them (Hasher & Zacks, 1979; Horton, 1984; Schneider & Shiffrin, 1977). A second view conceptualizes automaticity as a gradual construct and claims that its features are only partly dependent on each other; therefore, an automatic process may be generated from many combinations of these components (Moors, 2016; Tacikowski, Freiburghaus, & Ehrsson, 2017). A third approach also views automaticity as a varying mixture of components, but identifies one irreplaceable feature, namely, autonomy, which means that once an automatic process has started, it runs to completion without conscious guidance (Bargh, 1989, 1992, 1997). Conscious guidance has also been termed conscious monitoring (Tzelgov, 1999), introspective awareness (Kihlstrom, 1987) or meta-consciousness (MC; Schooler, 2002). The present study refers to this concept as MC and applies it to the field of dissociation research by hypothesizing that DA manifests a tendency to act more automatically, i.e., with reduced MC. As a dissociative process, automatic functioning may be characterized by diminished sense of agency (SoA; Bayne & Levy, 2006; Levy & Bayne, 2004), i.e., the feeling that I am the one who controls my body and initiates my actions. Janet’s patients attributed their writing to altered identities (Van der Hart & Horst, 1989), a condition that today would be labeled with the severe diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder (DID). However, diminished SoA during automatic writing may not emerge only in clinical populations with severe psychiatric conditions; it characterizes novelists during bursts of inspiration. For example, hypnotizable writers reported that portions of stories had appeared “independently”, without conscious editing (Bowers, 1979), and writers who were interviewed about their narrative techniques described their characters as having their own thoughts and actions and referred to themselves as passive reporters of these events (Taylor, Hodges, & Kohányi, 2003). Interestingly, these writers also had higher-than-average levels of DA. Despite the prevalence of automaticity and diminished SoA and their relevance to the cognitive functioning of dissociators, dissociation research has not addressed automaticity at all and has paid only scant attention to SoA. In two recent studies, Ataria (2015a, 2015b) suggested that peri-traumatic dissociation (i.e., a dissociative response during a traumatizing event) may be explained through alterations in the senses of agency and ownership. Another recent study (Rabellino et al., 2018) on post-traumatic participants aimed to manipulate their sense of bodily ownership, a construct closely related to SoA pertaining to the feeling that I am the one who is undergoing an experience (Gallagher, 2000). It showed that post-traumatic dissociators demonstrated highly varied responses to the manipulation that ranged from very strong to very weak changes to sense of ownership. However, the main body of literature that examined correlations between dissociation and cognitive measures has not focused on automaticity or SoA alterations, emphasizing instead dissociation in the context of attention and memory. The betrayal trauma theory (DePrince & Freyd, 1999; Freyd, Martorello, Alvarado, Hayes, & Christman, 1998) demonstrated support for the claim that dissociative tendencies are related to better performance on divided attention tasks and poor performance on selective attention tasks. The findings of several later studies are consistent with this approach, presenting heightened working memory (WM) span of dissociators. This capacity was explained as enabling the divided attention abilities of dissociators (De Ruiter, Phaf, Elzinga, & Van Dyck, 2004; De Ruiter, Phaf, Veltman, Kok, & Van Dyck, 2003; Elzinga et al., 2007). However, other studies that were unable to replicate the findings suggesting superior functioning in divided attention only demonstrated cognitive disadvantages associated with dissociation (Devilly et al., 2007; Giesbrecht, Geraerts, & Merckelbach, 2007; Giesbrecht, Lynn, Lilienfeld, & Merckelbach, 2008; Giesbrecht, Merckelbach, Geraerts, & Smeets, 2004; Giesbrecht & Merckelbach, 2009; Weiss & Low, 2017). In contrast to these equivocal findings, proneness for false memories is a more robust feature of dissociators (Giesbrecht et al., 2007, 2008; Hyman & Billings, 1998; Winograd, Peluso, & Glover, 1998). The inconsistent findings regarding the attentional functioning of dissociators may be explained by addressing automaticity; possibly, dissociators function optimally on tasks that encourage automaticity but poorly on tasks that require MC. Diminished MC may bring about impaired autobiographical memory and reduced SoA (Prebble, Addis, & Tippett, 2013). Automaticity may also explain the dissociative proneness for false memories: the reduced awareness characterizing automaticity may lead to confabulation, since it enables misattribution (Bar-Anan, 2008). Finally, it should be noted that a recent study by our group (Bregman-Hai et al., 2018) found that alongside increased error rates on several cognitive tasks, dissociative absorbers were faster at a visual rotation task. The authors discuss how both of those findings may imply more automatic functioning with reduced MC. Notably, one can argue that the characteristics depicted here are not unique to DA, but rather reflect mind-wandering, which has also been termed Task Unrelated Thought (TUT; Smallwood, Baracaia, Lowe, & Obonsawin, 2003; Smallwood, Obonsawin, & Heim, 3

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2003). We assert that we do address a distinct phenomenon. Indeed, mind-wandering and DA are empirically distinct constructs (Soffer-Dudek, 2019). Moreover, research on TUT has focused on tasks that require MC, whereas the present work focuses on simple or repetitive tasks, in which acting on “auto-pilot” does not necessarily pose a disadvantage. Finally, the present work explores the extent and characteristics of automaticity as an individual-differences trait, a perspective neglected to some extent in TUT research. 1.3. Hypotheses of the present study The present study explored whether individuals high in DA perform tasks in a more automatic manner (i.e., with less MC) than those with low scores of DA. We were particularly interested in examining the phenomenon of automatic writing by using a modern, objective methodology. Moreover, we examined whether the performance of high dissociative absorbers is related to diminished SoA. In the present study, participants performed three tasks designed to enable a state of DA. The free writing task, which was our main interest, was designed to simulate the experience of automatic writing. The two other tasks comprised a low WM load choice reaction time (CRT) task, which included irrelevant distractors (non-target auditory stimuli), and a Tetris task. We chose these tasks due to their non-demanding nature (for more details regarding CRT, see Bregman-Hai et al., 2018; Gordon et al., 2018, for more details regarding Tetris, see Moller, Meier, & Wall, 2010) to enable participants to become absorbed. After each task, participants selfreported their automaticity and SoA levels. To assess their MC, they underwent an episodic memory test in which they were asked to recognize details from each task. This memory test was not a standard word-list paradigm like that developed by Deese (1959) and further modified by Roediger and McDermott (1995). Instead, we attempted to create a more ecological memory test that, rather than asking participants to memorize specific words, addressed information to which the participants were exposed during task performance. We predicted that, compared to low dissociative absorbers: (1) High dissociative absorbers’ MC, assessed as the extent to which they remember details from the tasks they had just performed, would be impaired; (2) High dissociative absorbers would report greater automaticity and decreased SoA regarding their performance; (3) High dissociative absorbers’ performance would be less affected by the potentially distracting presence of non-target stimuli due to its autonomous nature. Initially, we also assumed that automaticity would involve faster performance, but the findings of a recent study by our group that explored the relation of DA to cognitive functioning (Bregman-Hai et al., 2018) did not support this notion. Therefore, we decided to explore, without a specific hypothesis, whether there are speed differences between task performance of high and low dissociative absorbers. The significance of the present investigation lies in: (1) the utilization of automaticity as the possible mechanism explaining previous ambiguous findings on cognitive functioning of dissociators; (2) bridging “common” and “pathological” dissociation as well as different schools of thought regarding automaticity; and (3) shedding light on the concept of “common” dissociation and further validating the widelyused DES questionnaire. 2. Method 2.1. Participants and procedure The study included two phases. Three-hundred-and-three undergraduate students from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (25.7% males, M age = 23.53 years, SD age = 1.39, range 18–28) participated in Phase 1, either for academic credit or for monetary compensation (50 NIS). In Phase 1, which was administered online, participants completed demographic and trait questionnaires, including dissociation and agency questionnaires, via the Qualtrics platform (some of the questionnaires administered in this phase are out of the scope of this study and were used for a different study, see Soffer-Dudek, 2019). After the completion of Phase 1, a DA score was calculated for each participant. For the second phase of the study, the 155 participants with the highest and lowest DA scores were offered to participate in a follow-up study. From this pool, 33 participants with high DA scores (M DA = 52.09, SD DA = 13.61) and 30 participants with low DA scores (M DA = 4.52, SD DA = 2.84) agreed to take part in Phase 2. Our total sample size of 63 participants (17.5% males, Mage = 23.52 years, SD age = 1.35, range 20–27) corresponds with those of previous studies in the field (Chiu, Yeh, Huang, Wu, & Chiu, 2009; Giesbrecht et al., 2007). There were no significant demographic differences between the participants who completed only Phase 1 (28% males, Mage = 23.54, SDage = 1.40) and those who took part in both phases (17.46% males, Mage = 23.52, SDage = 1.35). In Phase 2, the high absorption group (12.12% males, Mage = 23.23, SDage = 1.23) and the low absorption group (23.33% males, Mage = 23.86, SDage = 1.43) did not differ significantly on demographic measures. All participants were proficient Hebrew speakers who gave their informed consent prior to their participation and were informed that they could withdraw from the study at any time. The study was conducted according to the guidelines of the declaration of Helsinki (World Medical Association, 2013) and received an institutional ethical approval beforehand. In Phase 2, which was conducted in the laboratory, participants first signed a consent form, after which they answered a few selfreport questions followed by a battery of computerized tasks and questionnaires. The order of the tasks was fixed. The first task was a CRT task that will be explained in greater detail in the Measures section. Toward the end of the task, several non-target auditory stimuli were presented to create a possible distraction. Participants were informed in advance that tones might be heard due to “technical issues” and were instructed to ignore them. The next task was a 10-minute Tetris game. Finally, the participants were presented with a free writing task. After each of the three tasks, participants were requested to rate their subjective feelings of automaticity and agency pertaining to their task performance. Following the subjective ratings of each task, participants underwent a memory test in which they were asked to identify stimuli that were presented in the preceding task. Since the stimuli presented in the free writing task comprised words written down by the subjects themselves, the memory test for this task was not 4

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merely a measure of episodic memory, but rather a specific measure of autobiographical memory (Marsh & Roediger, 2013). After that, participants were debriefed and compensated. 2.2. Measures 2.2.1. Demographic information For the purpose of statistical control, participants in Phase 1 were asked to report their age and gender as well as their score on the standardized test used in Israeli universities for the purpose of admission (equivalent to the SAT in the US) as a rough representation of intelligence. Participants arriving at the laboratory for Phase 2 also answered one item asking about their computer gaming habits. Controlling for either intelligence or gaming did not alter the results, and therefore, these variables were excluded from the final analyses and will not be discussed further. 2.2.2. Absorption and imaginative involvement DA was assessed in Phase 1 with the widely-used revised version of the Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES; Carlson et al., 1993) by using nine items that form the absorption subscale according to a factor analysis on a large, mixed clinical and non-clinical sample (Carlson et al., 1993). Each item requires respondents to estimate the percentage of time (0–100%, with intervals of 10% on an 11point scale) in which they experience that dissociative phenomenon. The Hebrew version of the DES has good psychometric properties (Somer, Dolgin, & Saadon, 2001). In the present study, the DES absorption scale had a high internal reliability ofα = 0.89. 2.2.3. Alternative measures Three self-report questionnaires were used as additional measures of absorption and dissociation and were administered to participants in Phase 1. Absorption was measured with the Tellegen Absorption Scale (TAS; Tellegen & Atkinson, 1974), a 34-item “true/false” format measure that assesses the tendency for deep attentional involvement in a task, stimuli or one’s own mental imagery. In the present study, the TAS had an internal reliability of α = 0.89. Pathological dissociation was measured with the DEStaxon (DES-T), which is calculated from the full DES, by averaging respondent’s scores on items 3, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 22, and 27 (Waller et al., 1996). In the present study, the DES-T had an internal reliability of α = 0.85. Normative individual differences in dissociative tendencies, including imagination, obliviousness, and detachment, were measured with the Dissociative Processes Scale (DPS; Harrison & Watson, 1992), which consists of 33 items answered on a 5-point scale (1 = strongly disagree, 2 = disagree, 3 = neutral or cannot decide, 4 = agree, 5 = strongly agree). In the present study, the DPS had a high internal consistency of α = 0.95. In accordance with the arguments we raised in the introduction section, we hypothesized that the DPS, which measures obliviousness and other common dissociation phenomena, will yield results similar to DA, whereas the TAS will not. We did not have a specific prediction regarding the DES-T. 2.2.4. Agency Subjective SoA was assessed with the Sense of Agency Scale (SoAS; Tapal, Oren, Dar, & Eitam, 2017). In Phase 1, to assess trait SoA, we used the original questionnaire, which includes statements such as: “My actions just happen without my intention”. In Phase 2, the scale was adapted to measure state SoA. In both versions, the scale comprises 13 statements that are given on a 9-point Likert scale, ranging from “1” (totally disagree) to “9” (totally agree). In the present study, the questionnaire had good internal reliability: Cronbach’s alpha was 0.85 for the trait version of the SoAS, that was answered in Phase 1. The state SoAS versions that were answered in Phase 2, after the CRT, Tetris and free writing tasks, had Cronbach’s alpha coefficients of 0.90, 0.88, and 0.90, respectively. It should be noted that the SoAS version that was used in this study is an early version received via personal communication with one of the authors of the SoAS, prior to the publication of the paper with the final version. In the most recent adaptation of this questionnaire, the response scale ranges from 1 to 7, and item #7 is slightly modified (for further details, see Tapal et al., 2017). 2.2.5. Automaticity This self-report measure was only used in Phase 2. Based on the automaticity subscale of the self-report index of habit strength (SRHI; Verplanken & Orbell, 2003), it includes seven items that originally referred to a certain habit, for example: “(Behavior X) is something I have no need to think about doing”. The items were translated to Hebrew and then adapted to describe the tasks performed in this study rather than routine behaviors. Responses are given on a 7-point Likert scale, ranging from “1” (totally disagree) to “7” (totally agree). In the present study, the Cronbach's alpha for the automaticity measure was 0.79 when measuring automaticity in the CRT task, 0.80 when answered after the Tetris task, and 0.78 following the free writing task. 2.2.6. Performance & memory measures Task performance and memory capabilities were assessed by using several measures: 2.2.6.1. Choice Reaction Time (CRT) task. Administered using E-Prime 2.0 software (Psychology Software Tools, 2012), this task was used to explore automatic functioning due to its simplicity and intuitiveness. Participants were instructed to place their left and right index fingers on the “q” and “p” keys of a standard computer keyboard, which are located on its left and right sides, respectively. They were asked to respond as quickly as possible to a stimulus presented on the screen (either an asterisk, 83% of trials, or a word, 17% of trials), using both hands, according to the stimulus’s location: single-click on the “q” key for stimuli on the left, single-click on 5

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the “p” key for stimuli on the right. Stimuli were displayed on the screen until the subject responded and were separated from one another by 1000-millisecond inter-trial intervals. The task started with a 20-trial training phase followed by a 240-trial experimental block. In trials 170, 182, 200, 212, and 232, a tone (“beep”) was presented (these will be referred to as “beep trials”) as a non-target stimulus. Reaction times were calculated as performance measures. Shorter response times indicated better performance. Specifically, shorter response times in the beep trials indicated greater focus on the target stimulus and higher obliviousness to external cues. 2.2.6.2. CRT recognition test. To explore MC by addressing episodic memory, participants were asked to discriminate between words that appeared on the CRT task (“old”) and control words (“new”). All words, in this task as well as in the CRT task, were drawn from the work of Frost, Forster, and Deutsch (1997) and represent common forms of Hebrew words. Their average length was 4.9 letters (SD = 0.67). Two lists of words were created. The allocation of words to a “stimuli list” (i.e., words that appeared in the CRT task) or a “control list” (i.e., words that appeared only as distractors in the recognition test) was counterbalanced between subjects. The recognition indices extracted from the memory test were calculated according to signal detection theory: hit rate, false alarm rate, hit minus FA, sensitivity index (d'), and criterion. Since some subjects had a hit rate or a false alarm rate of 1 or 0, rates which prevented the calculation of d', a common adjustment, based on Macmillan and Creelman (2004) was used: the proportions of 0 and 1 were converted to 1/(2 N) and 1–1/(2 N), respectively, where N was the number of trials on which the proportion is based (in this case, N = 40). 2.2.6.3. Tetris. A Tetris game was administered via the Meta-T tool (Lindstedt & Gray, 2015) to explore functioning under an absorption-prone situation. Participants were instructed to play for 10 min and to continue to the next round if they failed before the time was over. The game started at the easiest level and increased in difficulty according to individual performance. The performance index extracted from this task was average latency (the mean elapsed time between key presses, measured in milliseconds, which serves as a measure of dexterity), which represented response time. Shorter latency indicated better performance. 2.2.6.4. Tetris recognition test. Here we explored MC by addressing episodic memory regarding details from the task. Participants were presented with various game blocks, some of which were real Tetris blocks that were featured in the preceding task, while others were photo-edited control blocks. Participants were asked to identify which of the blocks they saw during the game were actual Tetris blocks and which were controls. Recognition indices were extracted from the test and calculated according to signal detection theory, but instead of asking participants to recognize an item as “old” or “new”, they were requested to identify whether or not each block was in the Tetris game (see the explanation in Section 2.2.6.2, regarding CRT recognition indices). 2.2.6.5. Free writing task. Participants were instructed to write continuously for 7 min in an empty Microsoft Word file without thinking about a specific subject. They were instructed not to focus on the content of their writing and to avoid deleting or editing their text. To encourage continuous writing with as little self-awareness as possible, the file template was preadjusted so that respondents could not examine their text (white colored text on a white background, 1-point font size). 2.2.6.6. Free writing recognition test. To assess MC and autobiographical memory, Twenty two-word segments were presented to participants, one segment at a time. Half of the segments were taken from the participant's individual text, and half were control, experimenter-generated segments. We used a tailored python script to generate text segments from each participant’s just-written text. That same script enabled us to also calculate recognition indices for each participant. The full code is freely available for all purposes, and can be found at: https://github.com/noaisme/FreeWritingRecognition. The control segments were determined in the following way: first, 17 segments were generated in an attempt to reflect common 2-word phrases (e.g., “I want”, “it’s not”) or phrases that were expected to capture the participants’ experiences during the experiment, and therefore, would appear in their free texts (e.g., “this experiment”, “I’m bored”). Then, a pre-test was conducted, in which 10 participants (half were lab members and half were students who were compensated with course credits) performed the free writing task and its recognition test with these 17 phrases as control segments. The texts generated by the pre-test participants were then analyzed for word frequency by using an online text analyzer (https://www.online-utility.org). Eighteen additional control segments were created from the most common word pairs that appeared in the pre-test data, and 17 additional control segments were generated by pairing the most frequent single words that appeared in the pre-test data. In total, a pool of 52 control segments was created and used in the final task. Each participant was presented with 10 control segments that were randomly selected from this pool. Participants were asked to decide for each text excerpt whether or not it was written by them. They were coached not to answer hastily, but to take their time and to try to be as accurate as possible. Recognition indices were extracted and calculated according to signal detection theory, but here participants were asked to differentiate between “mine” and “not mine” text excerpts rather than to recognize items as “old” or “new” (see the explanation in Section 2.2.6.2, regarding CRT recognition indices). 2.3. Data analysis First, missing data were estimated for the DA and trait SoA variables of Phase 1. There were no missing values in DA, and there was one missing value in trait SoA. From a sample of N = 303, the missing SoA data amount to less than 1% of the total. Missing data were then estimated for all the study variables of Phase 2. Each of the study variables had between 0 and 2 missing values that, out of a sample of N = 63, represent a mere 3%. According to Tabachnick and Fidell (2007), missingness that is under 5% is negligible, and any method of dealing with it will probably yield the same results; thus, no attempts were made to replace missing values. 6

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In the CRT task data, trials for which participants made an erroneous response, the subsequent trials, and trials with reaction times below 100 ms were excluded from the response time analysis in this task. Then, to assess whether the “beep” caused a distraction (manipulation check), the mean response times of the CRT “beep” and “no beep” conditions were compared by using a ttest for paired samples. Phase 1 data were used primarily to identify high and low dissociative absorbers for recruitment to Phase 2. In addition, a Pearson correlation coefficient was calculated between Phase 1 DA and trait SoA (a partial correlation controlling for gender produced similar results; thus, gender is not controlled for). The data from Phase 2 were analyzed by using regression models, in which trait DA (that was measured in Phase 1) was the main predictor of interest, predicting performance, recognition measures, and self-report indices. In the regression models, gender was controlled for. Age was not controlled for in the analyses, since it was quite homogenous in the study’s sample. Notably, a continuous DA score was used as a predictor in the models, rather than a dichotomous grouping method of high and low dissociative absorbers, due to a difference in variance between the high and low absorption groups; specifically, the high group had significantly higher variance, indicating that this group was much more heterogeneous. However, we also explored the data as two groups by using a dichotomous variable, and the results were identical. Since a continuous predictor was used on 63 high and low dissociative absorbers (rather than on the original sample of 303) and due to the small sample size, normal distribution assumptions were probably inappropriate. Thus, all regression analyses were conducted with bootstrapping based on 1000 resamples with bias-corrected and accelerated confidence intervals (CIs). Statistical significance was determined by the exclusion of zero from the bootstrapped CIs. To enhance our confidence in the reliability of the results, Bayes Factors (BFs) are also reported for all effects. The BF10 in the present study was calculated via JASP version 0.8.2.0 (JASP Team, 2017) by using the Bayesian linear regression module with default priors (as there was no preliminary evidence in favor of any hypothesis). Notably, however, the Bayesian factors reported, calculated through JASP, are based on normality assumptions rather than on bootstrapped CIs; such assumptions were probably violated with the present sample of low and high dissociative absorbers in Phase 2. Thus, the bootstrapped CIs will constitute the central method by which the significance of effects will be determined in the present study. A final caveat that should be mentioned is that we did not apply formal modifications to the alpha level despite conducting multiple tests, again because of the reliance on bootstrapped CIs rather than on traditional p-values. This limitation and its possible influence on the results will be discussed in more detail in the Discussion section. Following the theoretical question that was raised in the introduction regarding the differences between DA that is measured by the DES and absorption measured by the TAS, we performed several additional analyses to determine whether other variables may be more suitable predictors than DA. As mentioned before, this study is a part of a larger project in which subjects were given a comprehensive battery of questionnaires. Therefore, we also explored three additional measures that were calculated from these questionnaires, alongside DA (which is measured by the DES): absorption (measured by the TAS), normative dissociation (measured by the DPS) and “pathological” dissociation (measured by the DES-T). First, we examined the extent to which these four constructs are closely related by calculating Pearson correlation coefficients between Phase 1 DA, TAS, DPS and DES-T. We then used these constructs as alternative predictors in regression models predicting performance, recognition and self-report measures from Phase 2. See the supplementary material for more information about the additional regression analyses. 3. Results The Phase 1 DA had a mean of 21.479 (SD = 16.74) and the Phase 1 SoA had a mean of 7.53 (SD = 0.94). The correlation between them was inverse, as expected, and moderate in magnitude (r = -0.38, p < .001), indicating that they are correlated—yet separate—constructs. The descriptive statistics for Phase 2 variables are presented in Table 1. The mean response time in the CRT “no beep” condition seemed to be shorter than the mean response time in the “beep” condition. A t-test comparison between the conditions showed that this difference was statistically significant (d = −20.83, bootstrapped CI = [−32.68, −9.89], bootstrapped p-value = 0.003; nonbootstrapped statistics: t = −3.46, BF10 = 27), supporting the idea that the non-target stimulus served as a distractor in the CRT task, as intended. Tables 2–4 present results of the regression models predicting task performance, recognition measures, and self-report measures, respectively. In all three tables, each row represents the effect of DA on the respective measure while controlling for gender. As can be seen in Table 3, Hypothesis 1, regarding decreased MC in high dissociative absorbers, was supported by some of the tasks: in the writing recognition test, when participants were required to recognize their own text, higher DA scores were indeed significantly correlated with fewer hits, lower performance measures (hits minus false alarms), and decreased sensitivity. The Tetris recognition test evinced a trend that was in the direction of Hypothesis 1 (the upper bound of the bootstrapped CI was zero), as absorption scores had a marginal negative correlation with hits. Hypothesis 2, regarding higher self-reported automaticity and lower self-reported SoA among high absorbers, was partially supported, and these results are depicted in Table 4. As expected, DA levels were negatively correlated with SoA on all tasks, excluding the Tetris task, in which we only found a statistical trend in the expected direction. They were positively correlated with automaticity on the free writing task, and they exhibited a statistical trend in the expected direction on the Tetris and CRT tasks. Hypothesis 3, which predicted that a tendency for high absorption will be correlated with less distraction by external stimuli, was supported by the data, as in the “beep” condition of the CRT task, wherein a higher absorption score predicted a shorter response time (see Table 2). However, the reliability of this effect is questioned, as the Bayesian statistic was much lower than 3. (Notably, though, the Bayesian factors presented do not rely on bootstrapping, which is important to this uniquely-distributed sample.) Next, we explored whether different absorption/dissociation measures would yield similar results. Table 5 presents the 7

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Table 1 Descriptive data of Phase 2 variables. Trait/Task

Measure type

Mean (SD)

CRT (no beep) CRT (beep) Tetris CRT recognition test

Response time Response time Average latency Hit rate False alarm (FA) rate Hit minus FA d’ (sensitivity) c (criterion) Hit rate False alarm (FA) rate Hit minus FA d’ (sensitivity) c (criterion) Hit rate False alarm (FA) rate Hit minus FA d’ (sensitivity) c (criterion) After CRT task After Tetris task After free writing task After CRT task After Tetris task After free writing task

300 (35) 321 (69) 649 (176) 0.36 (0.21) 0.18 (0.14) 0.18 (0.15) 0.65 (0.54) 0.74 (0.62) 0.75 (0.14) 0.53 (0.20) 0.22 (0.25) 0.62 (0.69) −0.41 (0.34) 0.62 (0.22) 0.45 (0.25) 0.17 (0.30) 0.53 (1.01) −0.10 (0.54) 6.44 (1.56) 7.73 (1.16) 7.09 (1.58) 3.91 (1.25) 3.11 (1.30) 2.64 (1.25)

Tetris recognition test

Writing recognition test

State SoA

State Automaticity

Table 2 Effect of dissociative absorption (DA) predicting task performance in regression models controlling for gender. Task name

Measure type

b [CI]

se

β

p

BF10

CRT (no beep) CRT (beep) Tetris

Response time Response time Average latency

−0.18 [−0.54, 0.16] −0.65 [−1.35, −0.06] −0.34 [−1.56, 1.08]

0.17 0.35 0.70

−0.14 −0.24 -0.05

0.283 0.064 0.601

0.56 1.56 0.33

Note. CRT = Choice Reaction Time. BF10 represents the Bayesian factor. Effects for which the bootstrapped confidence intervals exclude zero are italicized. Confidence intervals are based on bootstrapping with 1000 resamples and bias-corrected and accelerated (BCa) modification. Table 3 Effect of dissociative absorption (DA) predicting recognition measures in regression models controlling for gender. Task name

Measure type

b [CI]

se

β

p

BF10

CRT recognition test

Hit rate False alarm (FA) rate Hit minus FA d’ (sensitivity) c (criterion) Hit rate False alarm (FA) rate Hit minus FA d’ (sensitivity) c (criterion) Hit rate False alarm (FA) rate Hit minus FA d’ (sensitivity) c (criterion)

0.000 [−0.002, 0.002] 0.001 [−0.001, 0.002] −0.001 [−0.002, 0.001] 0.000 [−0.005, 0.004] −0.002 [−0.008, 0.005] −0.002 [−0.003, 0.000] 0.000 [−0.002, 0.002] −0.001 [−0.004, 0.001] −0.004 [−0.011, 0.002] 0.002 [−0.001, 0.005] −0.002 [−0.004, −0.001] 0.002 [−0.001, 0.004] −0.004 [−0.007, −0.001] −0.012[−0.022, −0.001] 0.001 [−0.004, 0.007]

0.001 0.001 0.001 0.003 0.003 0.001 0.001 0.001 0.003 0.002 0.001 0.001 0.001 0.005 0.003

0.01 0.13 −0.10 −0.02 −0.07 −0.28 −0.01 −0.15 −0.16 0.18 −0.28 0.16 −0.33 −0.31 0.07

0.920 0.338 0.396 0.910 0.602 0.031 0.925 0.227 0.212 0.164 0.019 0.252 0.011 0.030 0.623

0.37 0.53 0.47 0.37 0.41 2.90 0.35 0.60 0.65 0.81 2.92 0.69 6.58 4.20 0.39

Tetris recognition test

Writing recognition test

Note. CRT = Choice Reaction Time. BF10 represents the Bayesian factor. Effects for which the bootstrapped confidence intervals exclude zero are italicized. Confidence intervals are based on bootstrapping with 1000 resamples and bias-corrected and accelerated (BCa) modification.

correlations found between Phase 1 DA, TAS, DPS and DES-T. As can be seen in the table, significant, positive and strong correlations were found between these four measures. Despite the strong correlation found between TAS and DA, it was slightly less strong than the correlation of DA with the other measures, implying that these two scales seem to assess separate constructs. We re-calculated all of our regression analyses by using each of these variables as a predictor and compared them with the original analyses, in which DA was used as the predictor. The full results of those analyses are available in the supplementary material file. The results were overall 8

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Table 4 Effect of dissociative absorption (DA) predicting self-report measures in regression models controlling for gender. Task name

Measure type

b [CI]

se

β

p

BF10

State SoA

After After After After After After

−0.03 [−0.04, −0.01] −0.01 [−0.02, 0.00] −0.03 [−0.04, −0.01] 0.01 [0.00, 0.03] 0.01 [0.00, 0.03] 0.02 [0.01, 0.03]

0.01 0.01 0.01 0.01 0.01 0.01

−0.41 −0.29 −0.47 0.30 0.28 0.44

0.002 0.023 0.001 0.037 0.039 0.001

44.70 3.14 189.59 3.41 3.04 89.66

State Automaticity

CRT task Tetris task free writing task CRT task Tetris task free writing task

Note. CRT = Choice Reaction Time. BF10 represents the Bayesian factor. Effects for which the bootstrapped confidence intervals exclude zero are italicized. Confidence intervals are based on bootstrapping with 1000 resamples and bias-corrected and accelerated (BCa) modification. Table 5 Correlations, means and standard deviations of DA, TAS, DPS and DES-T.

1. DA (M = 2. TAS (M = 3. DPS (M = 4. DES-T (M =

21.48, SD = 16.74)

1

2

3

4

1

0.61** [0.53,0.69] 1

0.74** [0.67,0.79] 0.72** [0.67,0.78] 1

0.78** [0.73,0.83] 0.50** [0.41,0.59] 0.67** [0.60,0.73] 1

14.78, SD = 7.32) 74.84, SD = 23.83) 6.84, SD = 10.24)

Note. ** p < .01; Under each coefficient are 95% bootstrapped confidence intervals, using 1000 resamples, calculated with the bias-corrected and accelerated (BCa) method. DA = dissociative absorption, TAS = Tellegen absorption scale, DPS = Dissociative processes scale, DES-T = Dissociative experiences scale taxon.

very similar using all measures. However, small differences did emerge especially when using the TAS, again supporting its separateness from measures of dissociation. Specifically, it was the only measure that did not predict an ability to ignore distraction, and it was the only measure for which the prediction of poor MC was not restricted to self-generated content. 4. Discussion The current study examined whether the key to understanding the behavior of individuals who tend to experience DA lies in enhanced levels of automaticity in these individuals. We expected to find evidence for automaticity among high dissociative absorbers manifested as impaired episodic and autobiographical memory, low subjective SoA, high self-reported levels of automaticity, and obliviousness to external stimuli. We will first discuss the findings from the recognition measures that were used to assess participant MC during the tasks, then the findings pertaining to the subjective experience reported by the participants, and afterwards the findings from the performance measures (i.e., participant response times in the tasks). Lastly, we will review the findings of the additional analyses we performed, in which we used alternative predictors rather than DA. The recognition findings partially supported our predictions. The expected association between DA and memory impairments was supported in the free writing task, but not in the CRT or Tetris task. In other words, higher DA was associated with lower ability to remember only self-generated content, as high dissociative absorbers’ memory regarding their own writing was impaired, whereas their recognition of externally-generated stimuli was intact. This finding resonates with those reported by Chiu et al. (2016), who examined memory in clinical subjects with dissociative and psychotic symptoms. Their dissociative participants failed to recognize the source of sentences that they helped to create (i.e., contributed one word). Specifically, they tended to judge those items as created entirely by the experimenter, but their memory was intact regarding sentences they did not help to produce. The current study broadens the findings of Chiu et al. (2016) by showing that they also apply to normative populations high in DA. Thus, the autobiographical memory impairments associated with dissociation are not esoteric, but rather common processes that fall along a spectrum of severity. This reinforces the notion that common dissociative processes can be studied to better understand the formation of severe dissociative disorders. The restricted accessibility of those high in DA to selfgenerated content implies that DA may be related to decomposition and a blurring of the self-experience. In our view, this provides some initial evidence for the idea that DA is inherently linked with dissociative pathology of the self as opposed to the view, reviewed in the introduction, which posits that absorption is not dissociation. The specific deficit of dissociative absorbers in identifying autobiographical content also echoes the work of Wilkinson and Hyman (1998), who examined dissociative tendencies and episodic and autobiographical memory among non-clinical subjects. In that study, dissociation was related to impaired ability to recognize autobiographical content, but not episodic content that did not include autobiographic characteristics. The writers suggested that this difference may be because the task that examined mere episodic memory was simple, whereas the task that examined autobiographical memory required more complex performance. Alternatively, they suggested that it may be the result of different memory processes; errors in the episodic memory task (a word-list task) may reflect the activation of concepts related to the target 9

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items, whereas false autobiographical memories may stem from suggestibility and the reconstruction of memories. Wilkinson and Hyman also suggested that the finding may stem from the different time frames used in each task. Their episodic task examined events that occurred during the experiment, whereas their autobiographical task addressed events from the past. Importantly, the present study has bypassed this obstacle, since we measured current autobiographical events and did find differences, implying that this effect cannot be fully explained by the different time frames. Actually, a substantial number of studies have addressed the autobiographical memory of dissociators and focused on past events and childhood memories rather than on current actions (Huntjens, Wessel, Hermans, & Van Minnen, 2014; Hyman & Billings, 1998; Platt, Lacey, Iobst, & Finkelman, 1998). These studies did not yield consistent findings regarding the ability of dissociators to correctly remember events from their distant past. The current study offers an alternative perspective, suggesting that dissociators do experience autobiographical memory failures, but these failures do not necessarily stem from a fog surrounding the distant past, but rather from a blurring of present events. Our results also resemble the clinical observations of Allen, Console, and Lewis (1999), who described autobiographical memory failures among patients with non-specified dissociative disorders. Specifically, they noted that these failures emerged in memories of current experiences and not only those of past events. This relation between deficits in autobiographical memory and dissociation also dovetails with findings regarding the role of autobiographical memory in creating a feeling of self-continuity and maintaining a coherent selfconcept (Bluck, Alea, Habermas, & Rubin, 2005), attributes that are impaired in dissociative states. A closer look at the recognition indices of the free writing task, reveals that the sensitivity measure was inversely associated with DA, whereas the criterion was not associated with it at all. This means that dissociative absorbers demonstrated a poor ability to differentiate between self-generated and non-self-generated items, but this impairment did not stem from a particular bias. They were neither more liberal (i.e., with a tendency to judge most of the items as “mine”) nor more conservative (i.e., with a tendency to judge most items as “not mine”) than those low in DA. Notably, DA was correlated with errors of omission. This aligns with previous findings about correlations between autobiographical memory deficits and dissociative experiences (Huntjens et al., 2014; Kihlstrom, Tataryn, & Hoyt, 1993), but it contradicts findings pertaining to the tendency of dissociators to exhibit commission, rather than omission, errors (Bregman-Hai et al., 2018; Devilly et al., 2007; Giesbrecht et al., 2007, 2008). The results from the subjective measures supported our predictions. High dissociative absorbers experienced themselves as having diminished SoA in most of the tasks and as performing automatically in the free writing task. In other words, in most tasks, the level of trait DA predicted the level of state SoA reported following the task. In the free writing task, it also predicted the level of state automaticity. These findings may represent the common manifestation of the clinical-level phenomenon portrayed by the case studies of Janet (1889), whereby highly dissociative patients reported feeling that their own actions, including writing, were being performed by non-self agents (Van der Hart & Horst, 1989). The diminished SoA of high dissociative absorbers in the free writing task echoes reports of professional fiction writers, who described themselves as not leading the plots they create and who were also found to have higher DA scores comparing to the norms in the general population (Taylor et al., 2003). It also resembles the work of Walsh et al. (2014), wherein highly hypnotizable participants who were under hypnotic suggestion targeted to reduce sense of control indeed experienced decreased control over their mind and actions (in other words, diminished SoA) during an automatic writing task. The current study broadens Walsh et al.’s findings in several respects. First, the present study used the DA trait rather than hypnotizability, and it demonstrated that the experience of “automatic writing” may be produced without inducing a hypnotic trance, but merely by relying on individual differences in levels of trait dissociation. Also, whereas Walsh et al.’s paradigm was a structured sentence-completion task, the current study used free writing, which perhaps more accurately captures the essence of automatic writing and thus bears better ecological validity. The findings regarding reduced SoA are consistent with those of a previous study suggesting that diminished SoA characterizes peri-traumatic dissociative experiences (Ataria, 2015a). The current study extends this concept, as it shows that this relation also exists in a non-clinical population, regardless of traumatizing background. In addition, as we expected, the performance measures of the CRT task seem to imply that dissociative absorption was correlated with less distraction by non-target stimuli, as higher DA was associated with fluent performance that was less affected by an external noise. However, as mentioned in the results section, this finding was not robust. Specifically, it was supported by bootstrapped statistics but not by the un-bootstrapped, Bayesian statistics. This lack of robustness may have been due to the small sample size used in Phase 2 of the study and to the non-normality of the data, requiring bootstrapping for accurate hypothesis testing. Should this finding be replicated in future studies, it may suggest that DA enables automatic performance, as it echoes Bargh’s (1989, 1992, 1997) definition of an automatic process. According to Bargh, once an automatic process (or behavior) has started, it runs to completion without the need for conscious monitoring. This neglect of external stimuli is also reminiscent of the phenomenon of Inattentional Blindness (IB), in which people fail to notice unexpected but visible stimuli (Hyman, Sarb, & Wise-Swanson, 2014; Most et al., 2001). Although the present experiment did not examine the visual modality, the fact that our high DA participants were less distracted by external sounds may imply a tendency to ignore, or become oblivious to, external stimuli. In fact, we believe that IB reflects a normal dissociative process (Bregman-Hai et al., 2018). Further research should explore whether individual differences in DA are predictive of the likelihood of experiencing IB. Our exploration of a possible relation between DA and performance speed generated evidence for an absence of such a relation. This is consistent with the results of a recent study by our group (Bregman-Hai et al., 2018), and it may also be explained theoretically: according to Bargh (1989, 1992, 1997) and Tzelgov (1999), automatic performance is not necessarily effortless or more efficient, but rather, the only true characteristic of automaticity is autonomy. This means that once a process has begun, it does not require conscious monitoring to run to completion. Simply put, it is possible that high dissociative absorbers performed the tasks automatically, but that this automatic action did not manifest in elevated speed. Alternatively, this lack of findings may be due to methodology: since the tasks were designed to be non-demanding, the study may not have included enough variance to find differences. 10

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The additional analyses we conducted examined the ability of alternative indices of dissociation or absorption, instead of DA, to predict the effects about which we hypothesized. These alternative predictors were the TAS, the DPS and the DES-T. First, we found that in our sample, all of the alternative predictors were strongly related to DA, suggesting that they assess similar constructs. It should be noted that of all the indices, the TAS seemed to be less strongly correlated with DA, a finding that reinforces our theoretical stance that DA and TAS assess close, but not identical, phenomena. Similarly, when we used the TAS, DPS and DES-T as alternative predictors, only the TAS predicted slightly different patterns than the DA, whereas the other alternative predictors, which all measure dissociation, predicted the same pattern of results as the DA. Specifically, the TAS was the only index that did not predict an ability to ignore external distractions and the only measure that predicted a reduction in MC in tasks other than the writing task, i.e., recognition failures that were not specific to self-generated content. The first difference may be due to the fact that absorption, as defined by the TAS, includes both expansion and restriction of the field of consciousness (Kihlstrom, 2017; Tellegen, 1992, as cited in Lifshitz, Elk, & Luhrmann, 2019), whereas dissociative absorption includes only restriction (Soffer-Dudek et al., 2015). The second difference may imply that absorption as measured by the TAS is less specifically related to a blurred experience of one’s own identity compared to dissociation. Taken together, these findings underpin the notion that the TAS assesses absorptive experiences that are qualitatively different from, or are not restricted to, experiences of dissociation or DA. Several methodological shortcomings should be mentioned regarding the current study. First, the sample size of Phase 2 was rather small, and as such, it may be responsible for only partially supporting Hypothesis 1. In addition, because this study focused on DA, its findings may not be generalizable to individuals characterized by other types of dissociative experiences. Taken together, however, the high correlation between various dissociative phenomena and the fact that similar results emerged with the DES-T and DPS suggest that this generalization may be possible. Another limitation is the design of the study. The fixed order of tasks could have influenced the results, as participants may have been tired toward the end of the experiment, and their fatigue may have affected their performance in subsequent tasks. Indeed, in a recent study, high dissociative absorbers were more vulnerable to fatigue (SofferDudek et al., 2017). Also, the fact that the measurement of automaticity was based mainly on subjects’ self reports is a weakness of the present study. Indeed, we also attempted to measure automaticity by using objective performance metrics based on response times in the CRT and Tetris tasks, but considering the theoretical claims that speed does not necessarily characterize all automatic processes (Bargh, 1989, 1992, 1997; Moors, 2016; Tacikowski et al., 2017), these metrics do not appear to be sufficient. Using additional objective metrics for the assessment of automaticity could have strengthened our conclusions. Another limitation that should be addressed concerns the multiple comparisons conducted in the current study. Formal modification to the alpha level was not applied, since bootstrapped CIs were used instead of traditional statistical significance. Perhaps applying such modification would have resulted in the loss of some of the effects that emerged in this study. However, it is important to mention that several effects emerged, all in the expected directions, with additional non-significant trends, again in the expected directions. Thus, it seems unlikely that the results stem from random chance alone. In addition, the reliability of the effects was strengthened by Bayesian statistics, which provided strong evidence in favor of some of the effects. Notably, the need for the use of statistical correction when using Bayesian statistics has been subject to debate (e.g., Berry & Hochberg, 1999). More generally, it should be noted that the Bonferroni adjustment has been criticized as unnecessary when having a hypothesis in advance (Perneger, 1998), as too stringent and leading to type-II error (e.g., Gelman, Hill, & Yajima, 2012), and as penalizing a scientist for running a more informative experiment (Berry & Hochberg, 1999). Still, this limitation may jeopardize the validity of some of the effects found in the present study. Despite these limitations, the study has several strengths as well. Specifically, the present investigation bridges several schools of thought (dissociation, automaticity, autobiographical memory, and SoA research) to conceptualize—and attempt to capture—DA as reduced MC by using novel laboratory methods in addition to self-report. This study also bridges between the clinical and non-clinical dissociation literature by focusing on automatic writing and autobiographical memory. It is one of the few contemporary studies to present an ecological replication of the automatic writing phenomenon reported by Janet (Janet & Prince, 1907), and it is the first to explore how this phenomenon is related to individual differences in trait dissociation. Indeed, this study demonstrates that, as in Janet’s reports, individuals with dissociative tendencies present a unique pattern when performing this kind of writing. Specifically, it shows that people high in DA fail to remember their own writing. It is also the first study to present consistent evidence, evaluated through psychometrically stable measures, that dissociative absorbers perceive themselves as less agentic when performing several tasks. These findings pave the way for further research of autobiographical memory failures among dissociators with regard to current, daily events and not only past and childhood experiences. A promising angle for further investigation is the underlying mechanism of these memory failures, which should question whether they are based on the disruption of encoding processes, and are therefore irreversible, or perhaps they involve retrieval failures and are therefore reversible (this issue is thoroughly described by Allen et al. (1999)). Additionally, the relationship found between dissociative experiences and alterations in SoA should be further explored to understand the basis upon which this relationship is formed. Such explorations may have clinical significance, as they may help elucidate the experiences of people who tend to dissociate. Understanding that patients who deal with dissociation experience themselves as less agentive may assist in the development of suitable therapeutic interventions for them. For instance, they may find it more difficult to perform “homework” of behavioral-cognitive protocols because they may not feel that they are the entities responsible for initiating and performing these actions. Moreover, many therapeutic protocols include a self-monitoring diary, which may be frustrating for dissociative patients due to their tendency to perceive autobiographical events vaguely. Recognizing these obstacles and providing patients with proper psychoeducation about them may render more efficient therapy and help to tailor it to the exact needs of the patients.

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5. Funding/support This research was supported by the Israel Science Foundation Grant No. 539/13 to NS-D. This research was also supported (in part) by the Israel Science Foundation Grant No. 1895/13 to NS-D. The foundation had no involvement in the research other than providing financial support. CRediT authorship contribution statement Noa Bregman-Hai: Conceptualization, Methodology, Software, Formal analysis, Investigation, Data curation, Writing - original draft, Visualization, Project administration. Yoav Kessler: Conceptualization, Methodology, Software, Validation, Formal analysis, Resources, Data curation, Writing - review & editing, Supervision. Nirit Soffer-Dudek: Conceptualization, Methodology, Validation, Formal analysis, Resources, Data curation, Writing - review & editing, Supervision, Funding acquisition. Declaration of Competing Interest None. Appendix A. 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