Both memoryand emotion are something we often take for granted. They make us who we are,they are central to our being. Emotions and the way we interpret them lie atthe very foundation of what we consider ourselves to be as human beings, theyare what makes us human. Without them, relationships would disintegrate, thesocial world as we know it would cease to exist. Historically, emotions haven’talways been viewed as a positive and useful trait; Zeno, Plato and Aristotleliken emotions to a sickness, a kind of pathology and said it disturbsreasoning.
As science and the understanding of human behaviour progressed, theidea that emotions were a burden was abandoned; Charles Darwin revolutionisedthe idea that emotions were an important function; they are an instinct thatpreserves the survival of the species. But what counts as emotion? There are so many dichotomies and it can bedefined in so many ways (insert quote about defining emotion – from an academicjournal). The same applies to memory; memory is not a single entity, noris it a ‘thing’, it is a multifarious and exceedingly complex process. WilliamJames (1890) said that memory is not the retaining of knowledge, but theassociation of ideas, memory is a network and this web of ideas relies on cuesto activate associations. However, the brain is bound by physical limits whichmeans that sometimes it must rid of ‘useless’ memories and material to avoidsaturation of the synapse.
Memory and emotion have a strong andcurious relationship. Several studies have sought to explain the effectsemotion has on memory, the most prominent pattern that has come to light, isthat emotionally charged memories seem to be more firmly retained and recalledin comparison to purely cognitive and neutral memories. Easterbrook (1959)proposed the idea that arousal causes attentional narrowing, which meant thatan aroused organism would become less sensitive to “peripheral information”.This meant that the attentional resources were more focused and ‘concentrated’on the events centre. This pattern is often observed when looking at victims orwitnesses to crimes, known as the ‘weapon focus effect’. Witnesses seem tofocus all their attention (subconsciously) on the weapon the criminal possesseswhile they are unaware of their peripheral surroundings.
Because of thisnarrowing, the witness will remember that the perpetrator was carrying a gun ora knife in detail but struggle to describe or identify the perpetrator carryingthe weapon. Continuing with the legaltheme, a study conducted by Bolls, Lang and Potter (2001) revealed that theemotional tone of a victim statement also impacted the effectiveness of memoryrecall. They found that positive-tone messages were remembered far better thannegative-tone messages, even though the latter received more attention. Incomparison, they showed participants videos with both negative tone andnegative content, the results found that the participants became morephysiologically aroused when the videos were more negative. This arousal thenfacilitated memory on a recall task. This then leads us on to themood-congruence effect which says that individuals retrieve information moreeasily when it has the same emotional content as their current state.
Nygaardand Lunders (2002) tested the participants memory with both emotional andneutral homophones; a word list was presented to the subjects in a happy,neutral or sad tone. In accordance with the mood congruence effect, the resultsshowed that memory was at its best when the tone was congruent with theemotional content of the homophone. According to this theory, negative emotionalstatements should be remembered better when said in an emotional and negativetone. However, Salovey and Singer (1989) found that mood congruence was weakerwhen recalling childhood memories in comparison to recent memories. The amountof sad and negative childhood memories recalled was much less than the numberof happy and positive childhood memories that were recalled by those in apositive mood. Although, it was noted within the study that childhood memorieshad time to lose their emotional demeanour over time.
This is reflected in Wessel and Merckelbach’s (1997, 1998) studywhereby spider phobics were showed a large live spider, and were exposed topictures of spiders mounted on a whiteboard. In a memory test, the phobicparticipants (the aroused) showed a pattern of attentional narrowing and showedbetter memory for the event’s ‘centre’ (the spider), but showed worse memoryfor the event’s periphery in comparison to control participants. This is reflected in a study conducted by Safer et al (1998) wherebyparticipants were showed a sequence of photographs. One with a woman gatheringflowers in a park (neutral), and the other of a woman being stabbed in thethroat and bleeding on the floor (emotional). Following their exposure, theparticipants were then tested with a series of ‘zoomed in’ photographs, theywere asked to select the exact photo they had seen in the earlier sequence.Unsurprisingly, emotional photos were remembered when the photos were ‘morezoomed in’ in comparison to the neutral photographs.
The participants memoriesexcluded the peripheral informationHe tested out his hypothesis in anexperiment where animals were deprived of food for periods of time, then theanimal’s sensitivity was tested in relation to cues within its immediate environment.In a study conducted by Cahill and McGaugh (2003),they adminsitered the drug propanolo to their subjects which blocks the uptakeof adrenaline at the amygdala, theyfound that emotional memory is more powerful than cognitive memory and that thebodily/hormonal states affected how well something is remembered.