Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences

The devil is in the details: investigating the influence of emotion on event memory using a simulated event

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In our everyday lives, the negative events we experience sometimes include powerful, salient details which are ultimately responsible for us interpreting the events as negative (i.e., they drive our interpretation of the emotional valence of the event). Here we examined how the presence of such details within an event shapes our memory of that event. Research on the role of emotion in memory suggests that negative events are often remembered more accurately than positive ones, and this advantage is especially pronounced for the emotion-defining details of the events. However, research rarely separates retrieval effects from effects of attention and information processing during encoding. Here we used a simulated event to examine (1) whether negative events are remembered more accurately than positive events, (2) whether this effect is more pronounced for the emotion-defining detail of the event, (3) whether participants display enhanced accuracy for all aspects of an event (i.e., general memory enhancement) or for only certain aspects of the event (i.e., selective memory enhancement), and (4) whether any enhancement effects for central aspects of the event occur at the expense of contextual information (i.e., memory narrowing). Across three experiments, participants showed superior memory accuracy for the central details of the event in general, while those who interpreted the event as emotionally negative also displayed selective enhancement of the peripheral details. The results further suggested that it was the unexpectedness and/or salience introduced by the emotion-defining detail that was essential to enhancing memory accuracy, and not its goal relevance.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychological Research
Volume84
Issue8
Pages (from-to)2339-2353
Number of pages15
ISSN0340-0727
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020

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