MadSci Network: Neuroscience

Re: Where can I find information on emotional memory and automatic memory?

Date: Mon Jun 4 20:47:34 2001
Posted By: Lynn Nielsen-Bohlman, Faculty, Geriatric Psychiatry, Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Area of science: Neuroscience
ID: 991015742.Ns

Emotional memory refers to both the enhancement of memory processing due to emotional value, and the association of emotional value to an object or experience due to the presence of an emotionally active stimulus. An example of the first type of emotional memory is that very emotional events are often memorable. Another example is that pictures with high emotional content may be more memorable than pictures with little emotional value, whether the pictures are very pleasant or very unpleasant. An example of the second type of emotional memory is liking a person immediately upon meeting them because the perfume they are wearing is the same as that of someone important to you. The main idea seems to be that the orbitofrontal cortex and amygdala area of the brain process emotional stimuli, and that the information from that processing modifies the processing of memories in the brain's hippocampus, and affects the later processing of similar stimuli.

Automatic memory is memory that occurs without conscious intent, that is, without the person trying to remember. Automatic memory is a type of Implicit Memory. One example is Priming Memory. When priming occurs, a person responds more quickly and accurately to a stimulus the second time they experience it than the first, even though the subject was not trying to remember the stimulus. There is a lot of information available about implicit memory. Bear in mind as you read about implicit memory that just because a stimulus or process can be learned memory systems that do not rely on the hippocampus, that does not necessarily mean they are automatic. For instance, patients with amnesia may be able to learn a new skill, but not be aware of that learning. But people do effortfully try to learn skills. So skill learning may be implicit, but it may not be automatic.

Here are some resources on emotional and automatic memory:

Emotional Memory Web page of Dr. Larry Cahill

Web page of Dr. Joseph LeDoux

Web page of Dr. Stephen Maren

A chapter on emotion and memory: Implications of Arousal Effects for the Study of Affect and Memory by William Revelle and Debra A. Loftus, from S.A. Christianson (Ed.) (1992) Handbook of Emotion and Memory. Erlebaum, is available online

You may also wish to look at this 1994 Scientific American article: LeDoux JE. Emotion, memory and the brain. Sci Am 1994 Jun;270(6):50-7

Nice pages on automatic memory

Finally, if you are a middle school teacher, you need to visit this site:

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