Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Emotions as Intermediaries for Implicit Memory Retrieval Processing: Evidence Using Word and Picture Stimuli

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Emotions as Intermediaries for Implicit Memory Retrieval Processing: Evidence Using Word and Picture Stimuli

Article excerpt


The significance of emotions are seldom the focus of studies especially those concerning implicit memory. As a result, little is known about the effects of emotions on such memory. In two experiments, perceptual identification test was used to investigate the effects of emotional words and pictures on implicit memory. In Experiment 1, participants viewed lists of positive, negative and neutral words and in Experiment 2, participants saw lists of positive, negative and neutral pictures. Perceptual identification test was conducted after a 30 minute interval. Results showed that participants remembered better on implicit memory when information was with positive valence rather than negative valence: positive pictures and words were remembered more than negative pictures and words. However, the difference in types of information only emerged when the valence was positive. In this case, participants had an advantage for words over pictures only when these were presented with positive emotions, not with negative ones. The findings provide evidence for the significant mediating role of valence on implicit memory retrieval processes.

Keywords: implicit memory, emotional words, emotional pictures, perceptual identification

1. Introduction

Long-term memory has been broken down into two categories, explicit and implicit. Explicit memory is the ability to consciously recall some experience or thought and, implicit memory is an experience that one may not be able to consciously recall yet can be shown to be present. It refers to situations in which memory is affected by prior events but the remembered has no awareness of this influence (Neath 2008). In other words, implicit memory refers to memories of which people are not consciously aware, but which can affect subsequent performance and behavior (Feldman 2008).

Direct tests of memory, such as recognition and recall tasks, are often used to measure explicit memory. On the other hand, indirect tests of memory, such as word stem and perceptual identification test, are used to measure implicit memory (Schacter 1987). In indirect tests, participants are not required to have conscious recollection of the past event. The dissociation of implicit memory and explicit memory has been described as resulting from two distinct anatomical memory systems (Squire 1987; Tulving 1985; Gyurak et al. 2011). This suggestion is derived from findings that an amnesic's implicit memory can be nearly normal while his/her explicit memory is severely impaired (Graf, Squire, & Mandler 1984).

In our daily lives, we experience many events that trigger an emotional response: We receive a compliment, witness a car crash, or watch children playing in a park. One widely accepted framework used to classify these diverse emotional experiences describes emotion in two orthogonal dimensions: Valence is a continuum specifying how negative or positive an event is, whereas arousal refers to the intensity of an event, ranging from very calming to highly exciting or agitating (e.g., Lang, Greenwald, Bradley & Hamm 1993). In general, memory often is better for emotional events than for events lacking emotional relevance. This emotional memory enhancement effect has been demonstrated in a wide range of laboratory studies, using a variety of verbal and nonverbal stimuli (Hamann 2001).

The influence of emotion on cognition is vast and important. From the moment a new born baby opens its eyes, emotion is already playing a role in shaping the infant's cognition. Studies suggest that an early positive emotional bond with mothers may aid in the development of earliest mental representations (Hofer 1994). Research has also shown that early visual processing of stimuli is improved by signals of emotionality. That is, positive or negative valence (relative to neutral) of a stimulus can change how we process that information. In a study by Sato, Kochiyama, Yoshikawa and Matsumura (2001), event related potentials (ERPs) were used to measure brain activity of participants viewing emotional (happy or fearful) and neutral faces. …

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