Picturing self-harm: Investigating flash-forward mental imagery as a proximal and modifiable driver of non-suicidal self-injury

Julie Ji, M Kyron, L Saulsman, Rodrigo Becerra, AS Lin, Penelope Hasking, Emily Holmes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Objectives: Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) is theorized to be reinforced by its emotional consequences. Mental images of NSSI are commonly reported as occurring prior to NSSI. Based on the known functional properties of anticipatory mental imagery as an emotional and motivational amplifier, this study investigated whether NSSI mental imagery constitutes a proximal and dynamic mechanism underpinning NSSI risk. Method: An intensive ecological momentary assessment (EMA) study was conducted to track the occurrence and characteristics of NSSI mental imagery alongside NSSI urge and behavior in naturalistic settings. A sample of N = 43 individuals aged 17 to 24 with a history of repetitive NSSI completed EMA surveys seven times a day for 14 days. Results: Mental preoccupation in the form of NSSI mental imagery-based flash-forwards to the actions, bodily sensations, and emotional benefits of NSSI was found to occur when NSSI urge was high but not when urge was low. Critically, objective cross-panel analyses showed that higher frequencies of NSSI imagery occurrence predicted greater future NSSI urge and increased likelihood of acting on urge, over and above current urge. Conclusions: Mental imagery of NSSI is not simply an epiphenomenal by-product of NSSI urge and may constitute a dynamic and proximal novel intervention target. © 2024 The Authors. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of American Association of Suicidology.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalSuicide and Life-Threatening Behavior
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Apr 2024

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'Picturing self-harm: Investigating flash-forward mental imagery as a proximal and modifiable driver of non-suicidal self-injury'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this