Emotional dissociations in temporal associations: opposing effects of arousal on memory for details surrounding unpleasant events

Cognition and Emotion (forthcoming)
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Abstract

Research targeting emotion’s impact on relational episodic memory has largely focused on spatial aspects, but less is known about emotion’s impact on memory for an event’s temporal associations. The present research investigated this topic. Participants viewed a series of interspersed negative and neutral images with instructions to create stories linking successive images. Later, participants performed a surprise memory test, which measured temporal associations between pairs of consecutive pictures where one picture was negative and one was neutral. Analyses focused on how the order of negative and neutral images during encoding influenced retrieval accuracy. Converging results from a discovery study (N = 72) and pre-registered replication study (N = 150) revealed a “forward-favouring” effect of emotion in temporal memory encoding: Participants encoded associations between negative stimuli and subsequent neutral stimuli more strongly than associations between negative stimuli and preceding neutral stimuli. This finding may reflect a novel trade-off regarding emotion’s effects on memory and is relevant for understanding affective disorders, as key clinical symptoms can be conceptualised as maladaptive memory retrieval of temporal details.

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