Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

The Effects of Emotion and Encoding Strategy on Associative Memory

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

The Effects of Emotion and Encoding Strategy on Associative Memory

Article excerpt

Published online: 17 May 2012

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2012

Abstract Research has demonstrated that when discrete pieces of information are integrated together at encoding- imagining two items together as a single entity, for example- there is a mnemonic benefit for their relationship. A separate body of literature has indicated that the presence of emotional information can have an impact on the binding of associated neutral details, in some cases facilitating associative binding (MacKay et al. Memory and Cognition 32:474-488, 2004; Mather, Perspectives on Psychological Science 2:33-52, 2007), and in other cases impeding the processing of associated details (Easterbrook, Psychological Review 66:183-201, 1959; Kensinger, Emotion Review 1:99-113, 2009). In the present experiments, we investigated how memory for neutral words is affected by the emotionality of the information with which they are presented (whether with an emotional word or a second neutral word) and the encoding context (integrated or nonintegrated strategy). Participants viewed word pairs and were instructed to visualize the items as an integrated unit or to visualize them separately from one another. The results of Experiment 1 showed a disproportionate mnemonic benefit for neutral items that were integrated with other neutral items over those integrated with emotional items. The results of Experiments 2A and 2B showed that this effect interacted with encoding time: When given 2 s to encode, participants showed no effect of integration on memory for neutral-neutral pairs, but showed a significant mnemonic benefit for integrating emotional-neutral pairs. When given 4 or 6 s, the integrative benefit increased significantly for neutral-neutral pairs but decreased for emotional-neutral pairs. These results suggest that creating an integrated mental image of two neutral items requires a more time-consuming process than integrating an emotional and a neutral item, but that extra effort may result in a downstream mnemonic benefit.

Keywords Emotion . Associative memory . Integration

The ability to form and later to retrieve associations between unrelated pieces of information is a critical aspect of human memory. Substantial work has investigated how we form such associations, and these investigations have indicated that associative memory is promoted when items are combined in some meaningful way at encoding (e.g., learning the verbal pair surf + degree by putting the words together in a sentence; Diana, Yonelinas, & Ranganath, 2008; Graf & Schacter, 1985, 1989). One particularly strong associative strategy involves integrating the items conceptually at encoding. For example, instead of putting surf and degree in a sentence together, one might imagine a person using his or her diploma as a surfboard, or might think of a surfdegree as a specific type of degree conferred upon completion of a surfing course. Behavioral and neural data have suggested that although, in general, memory for associations is supported by recollection (which requires specific, episodic detail about the context in which information was learned; see Yonelinas, 2002, for a review of the dissociability of recollection and familiarity), memory for wellintegrated associations-such as the surf degree-can be supported by the less-context-specific process of familiarity (Diana Van den Boom, Yonelinas, & Ranganath, 2010; Giovanello, Keane, & Verfaellie, 2006; Staresina & Davachi, 2010). These findings indicate that the integration of two discrete pieces of information-the surfing degree, for instance-may yield a much different representation in memory than simply trying to remember that those two items co-occurred with one another.

These previous studies have typically employed neutral stimuli, but many real-world experiences elicit some emotional response. We know that emotional information is handled differently in memory than is neutral information, with emotional information typically receiving a mnemonic benefit over neutral information (Buchanan & Adolphs, 2002; Kensinger, 2009; reviewed by Hamann, 2001). …

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