In our everyday life, we rely on our memory to fully function. We either have to recall something so trivial such as where we left our keys, or we need to remember names of college classmates that we have not seen for a very long time. Given this fact, we ask, what exactly is memory, what are the processes involved in this cognitive function, and what are the factors that affect our memory?
Memory is said to be the process and means by which we retain information and later on retrieve that same information from storage when we need it in the present (Bjorklund, Schneider, & Hernandez Blasi, 2003; Crowder, 1976; Tulving & Craik, 2000).
When we experience something, we do not entirely store all the information in our memory. Studies show that there are different techniques that aid in adequate memory retention. There are also several dynamic theories about memory being a storage space for all our past experiences which involve sensory and informative data.
Furthermore, there are also various processes through which we could access, recall, remember, or recognize these data in our memory. Although there are extensive research studies about memory and its processes, it is interesting to look at some factors that aid or hinder memory recall and retention. One of these factors which are given particular interest and attention is the role of emotion on our memory. There are instances when we recall a part of our memory in vivid clarity as if it is reenacted in our minds and retrieved in full detail.
This is what we call flashbulb memory (Brown & Kulik, 1977). The reason behind this phenomenon is that the event that happened could be so emotionally powerful that it became strongly retained in our memory. In the event that you experience something that has a very strong emotional impact, you tend to remember the details more clearly and when you need to retrieve that certain information, you would be able to easily recall it accurately (Bohannon, 1988).
This could manifest in both the explicit and implicit memory, with the former requiring the person to deliberately pull out the memory from storage and put it out in consciousness, and the latter being an automatic response to the emotional trigger. To further illustrate the capacity of affect to influence memory, a study was made by Heuer and Reisberg in 1990 which showed that materials which show more emotion than similar ones with less emotional impact are more likely to be stored in one’s memory and could be therefore retrieved easily in general and in detail as well (Christianson, 1992).
Furthermore, it was also found that the mood or emotion where we were in when a specific situation happened would most likely serve as a retrieval cue when we experience the same mood in the present (Baddeley, 1989). For an instance, when we experience a certain situation when we are in a state of sadness, we would most likely remember the memory of the same experience when we are placed in the same emotional state. This is called the memory-dependent memory effects (Christianson, 1992). Biologically-speaking, the interaction between memory and affect could be attributed to certain processes in various parts of the brain.
Brain processes involved in the evaluation of rewards and punishments are directly related to affect in the sense that it depends upon the emotional impact of a certain situation to be determined if it is a form of a compensation or a penalty (Rolls, 2000). Because of this, it could be inferred that since emotion influences memory processes, data-driven information and past situations are stored in our memory in the basis of a reward-punishment system. Essentially, when a certain event, person, place, or thing is categorized as something rewarding, it could be more easily encoded and retrieved.
This categorization and selection happens in the amygdala, which is the center of emotional processing, and the data that get to pass through and be encoded encompass the mechanism in the hippocampus, which is on the other hand related to memory. Emotions disinhibit the barrier that the CA3 hippocampal area creates and so the data inputs could then proceed to the prefrontal cerebral cortex to be stored in memory (Neugebauer, et al. , 1999). It is also found in the study by Fast, et al. (1999) that the amygdaloid complex is primarily responsible with the emotional mechanism which affects memory retrieval.
Subjects who have lesions in the amygdalo-hippocampal area do not only suffer from amnesia, but they also show significant impairments in memory process related with emotional arousal. The reason behind this is that the AC organizes the information that are encoded, stored, and retrieved in our memory. Another effect that emotion has on memory is what is called by Christianson (1992) as resource allocation effects, which is the impairment of the memory processing when a person experience an extreme or negative emotion or mood during encoding or retrieval.
In this case, the person might find it difficult to access his/her memory of a certain situation, person, thing, or place because it has become a somewhat traumatic experience and the emotion that goes with it blocks the memory process. There are also some contradicting views that affect could not facilitate the retrieval or encoding of memory information. Some studies say that experiencing a negative emotion, for an instance, could prevent the person from remembering the details of a certain situation or event.
This is the reason why most researchers focus on the determinants and factors which would tell what specific kind of data or information does emotion facilitate or impede. Although most of the existing studies focus on the effects of emotion on the memory processes, there are also some minor studies which show that memories of past experiences affect the present mood or emotional state of a person (Christianson, 1992). Though this angle is not yet looked at more closely by researchers, we most of the time experience this feeling, which we sometimes call nostalgia.
Because memory and emotion are such complex topics when studied on their own, it is a more complicated feat to research on the interaction of the two concepts and their effect on each other. However, a lot of studies are being made in order to understand better these two psychological phenomena when they intertwine in their processes and how they affect the human psyche.
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