Emotional Experiences Can Influence Long-term Memory
A new study conducted by researchers at NYU shows that emotional experiences can induce physiological and internal brain states that persist for long periods of time after the events have ended.
The authors reported emotional experiences can influence memory and physiological states for an extended period of time. Additionally, non-emotional experiences that follow emotional ones are best remembered.
The study, published this week in the journal Nature Neuroscience, also shows that this emotional “hangover” influences how we attend to and remember future experiences.
The subjects involved in the study viewed a series of scene images that contained emotional content and elicited arousal. Approximately 10 to 30 minutes later, one group then also viewed a series of non-emotional, ordinary scene images while the other group viewed the non-emotional scenes first followed by the emotional ones.
Six hours later, the subjects were administered a memory test of the images previously viewed.
The results showed that the subjects who were exposed to the emotion-evoking stimuli first had better long-term recall of the neutral images subsequently presented compared to the group who were exposed to the same neutral images first, before the emotional images.
Specifically, the data showed that the brain states associated with emotional experiences carried over for 20 to 30 minutes and influenced the way the subjects processed and remembered future experiences that are not emotional.
“We see that memory for non-emotional experiences is better if they are encountered after an emotional event,” states Lila Davachi, a professor in NYU’s Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Science and senior author of the study.