Witnessing a negative and shocking image enhances the retention of everything that one learns before seeing them, says a new research.
Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have found that viewing emotion-laden images such as, a menacing drill sergeant, a gory slaughterhouse or a devastating scene of a natural disaster, immediately after taking a test actually increases people's retention of the tested material.
"Memory is labile and dynamic - after you retrieve something, you're still engaged in processing that information in some way," said Bridgid Finn, PhD, postdoctoral researcher in psychology in Arts and Sciences.
"Having a picture of a gun pointed at you just after you've just been tested on something probably isn't the best situation for learning, but because there is an intricate relationship between areas involved in emotion and remembering, the amygdala and the hippocampus, we find that the negative picture can enhance later retention," he said.
The researchers experimented on 40 undergraduate WUSTL students who studied ten lists of ten pairs of Swahili-English vocabulary items.
Participants were given a cued recall test after studying each set of ten pairs, and then given a final test on all 100 pairs.
On the initial test, following each correct answer, they were shown a picture either of a negative emotional image such as a pointed gun; a neutral image, such as a chair, or a blank screen.
A final cued-recall test on all 100 Swahili-English items revealed that participants did best on items that had been followed by the negative pictures.
The study has been detailed in the June 2011 issue of Psychological Science