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Accounting for immediate emotional memory enhancement

Talmi, D. & McGarry, L.M.

Journal of Memory and Language. 2012;66(1):93-108.

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Memory for items that are moderately emotional, such as images of violence, is usually very good. Human participants exhibit emotionally-enhanced memory (EEM) even when memory is tested shortly after study, before the effect of emotional arousal on long-term memory consolidation can influence memory performance. The goal of this study was to account for this effect by considering the way emotion alters the cognitive processes that occur during encoding and retrieval. Previous work demonstrated that organization and distinctiveness are necessary to account for this effect, but despite the fact that emotional stimuli are preferentially attended, whether attention contributes to EEM is unknown. In two experiments, participants encoded negative-arousing and neutral pictures under divided-attention conditions. They described the pictures they could recall after a 1-minute filled interval. Under divided-attention conditions, emotional pictures received more attention and were recalled more frequently even when they were matched with neutral pictures on organization and distinctiveness. Under these controlled conditions, the amount of attention participants allocated to individual pictures predicted how well they will be recalled. EEM was abolished under full-attention conditions and when attention to emotional and neutral stimuli was equated by manipulating encoding instructions. These findings suggest that attention is necessary to account for immediate EEM, and that attention, together with organization and distinctiveness, provide a sufficient account for this effect.

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Immediate release
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2nd February, 2015
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Created by:
Talmi, Deborah
27th September, 2010, 16:58:17
Last modified by:
Talmi, Deborah
Last modified:
27th October, 2015, 17:06:36

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