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Memory And Emotion

E. Kensinger, D. Schacter, M. Lewis, J. M. Jones, L. Barrett
Published 2002 · Psychology

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Although the concept of memory has existed for thousands of years, its systematic study was launched in the 1880s by the seminal experiments of the German philosopher Hermann Ebbinghaus. Through careful assessments of his own memory, Ebbinghaus forged the way for the field of memory research by demonstrating that humans' ability to retain information over time could be studied scientifically. It is telling that Ebbinghaus' studies involved the intentional memorization of nonsense syllables: He believed that to understand memory processes, one should study retention of information void of meaning or personal importance. Although memory researchers seemed to embrace Ebbinghaus' views on this issue for nearly a century, over the past couple of decades there has been increased emphasis on examining memory for personally important experiences and for events that evoke emotional reactions. Throughout this chapter, we will use terms like " emotional stimuli " as a shorthand to denote information in the environment that elicits a change in the internal, affective state of the organism. The focus of this chapter is on how these internal changes affect memory. Behavioral examinations of explicit (conscious) memory for emotional experiences have revealed three broad influences of emotion on memory: on the number (quantity) of events remembered, the subjective vividness (quality) of the remembered events, and the amount of accurate detail remembered about prior experiences. This chapter will explore these three lines of investigation, highlighting both the general conclusions that have emerged from the research and the open questions that remain. We will conclude with a brief discussion of recent research suggesting an effect of emotion on implicit (unconscious) memory. In addition to presenting the behavioral data and cognitive theories of emotional memory, this chapter also will include discussion of relevant neuroimaging and Memory and Emotion 2 neuropsychological research that has been influential in examining the extent to which memory for emotional experiences is supported by processes distinct from those that support memory for nonemotional events. Individuals often remember more emotional events than nonemotional ones. Within the laboratory, recall rates are higher for positive and negative stimuli than for neutral stimuli noted within the autobiographical memory literature. For example, when individuals are asked to generate memories in response to cue words, the retrieved memories often will be rated as personally significant and emotional (e.g., Conway, 1990; Rubin & Kozin, 1984). There also are many instances in which positive and negative events are more likely …
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