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Negative Emotional Content Disrupts the Coherence of Episodic Memories

Bisby, JA; Horner, AJ; Bush, D; Burgess, N; (2017) Negative Emotional Content Disrupts the Coherence of Episodic Memories. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 10.1037/xge0000356. (In press). Green open access

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Abstract

Events are thought to be stored in episodic memory as coherent representations, in which the constituent elements are bound together so that a cue can trigger reexperience of all elements via pattern completion. Negative emotional content can strongly influence memory, but opposing theories predict strengthening or weakening of memory coherence. Across a series of experiments, participants imagined a number of person-location-object events with half of the events including a negative element (e.g., an injured person), and memory was tested across all within event associations. We show that the presence of a negative element reduces memory for associations between event elements, including between neutral elements encoded after a negative element. The presence of a negative element reduces the coherence with which a multimodal event is remembered. Our results, supported by a computational model, suggest that coherent retrieval from neutral events is supported by pattern completion, but that negative content weakens associative encoding which impairs this process. Our findings have important implications for understanding the way traumatic events are encoded and support therapeutic strategies aimed at restoring associations between negative content and its surrounding context.

Type: Article
Title: Negative Emotional Content Disrupts the Coherence of Episodic Memories
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1037/xge0000356
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xge0000356
Language: English
Additional information: This article has been published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Copyright for this article is retained by the author(s). Author(s) grant(s) the American Psychological Association the exclusive right to publish the article and identify itself as the original publisher.
Keywords: Episodic memory, emotion, hippocampus, pattern completion, memory coherence
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Division of Psychiatry
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology > Clinical and Experimental Epilepsy
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1574362
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