Emotion and Memory

Raul Villamarin Rodriguez’s article on “The role of emotion in memory” was a highly interesting one. It dealt with the encoding specificity hypothesis and its variations. The encoding specificity hypothesis essentially postulates that retrieval of memory is aided when the cues present at retrieval match the cues present during encoding of the memory. These cues may be of various kinds like the physical environment during encoding and retrieval, physiological states of the individual or even emotional states. The article which I’m discussing deals with the emotional states.Retrieval is aided when an individual’s when the mood of the individual matches the emotional valence of the memory, i.e. memory for positive events is stronger during a positive mood. Similarly memory for negative events is stronger during negative moods. This has an important implication in the study of clinical depression. In a study by Watkins et al (1996), it was seen that clinically depressed participants were more likely remember negative words in an implicit memory test than control group participants. The control group, on the other hand was more likely to remember positive and neutral words. Individuals with depression are more likely to remember negative memories and thus strengthen their negative moods and depression.

Another mood related effect on memory is the mood dependence effect. This refers to the finding that retrieval is aided when the emotional state at the time of retrieval/remembering matches the emotional state during encoding of the memory.

The emotional content of the material itself is also an important determinant of the likelihood of remembering the material. Emotionally positive and negative content is more likely to be remembered that emotionally neutral ones.

The article also touches upon the brain areas involved in the emotion and memory interaction. The amygdala and the prefrontal cortex are two areas involved in this process.

There are also gender and age differences with regards to memory for emotional events.

The study of memories is very complex and intricate. Whether or not something is remembered depends on the combination of several factors. The ability of researchers to isolate these factors to study their independent and combined effects on memory is something which requires training and is very interesting.

Pritha Sengupta

Pritha Sengupta


IRIANS- The Neuroscience Institute


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