Negative Events Lingers Longer in Memory Than Positive Ones

by VR Sreeraman on Aug 29 2007 6:45 PM

Negative Events Lingers Longer in Memory Than Positive Ones
A new study has shown that we tend to remember the bad times better than the good.
The study, from Boston College psychologist, Elizabeth Kensinger and colleagues, has suggested that we retain and bear in mind events that carry negative emotional burden.

Kensinger and colleagues have explained that the power of emotion is likely to reduce our memory inconsistencies.

Her research shows that whether an event is pleasing or aversive seems to be a critical determinant of the accuracy with which the event is remembered, with negative events being remembered in greater detail than positive ones.

To substantiate her theory, Kensinger gives the example of a sight of a man on a street holding a gun. After seeing the man, people remember the gun clearly, but they forget the details of the street.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), studies have shown increased cellular activity in emotion-processing regions at the time that a negative event is experienced.

The more activity in the orbitofrontal cortex and the amygdala, two emotion-processing regions of the brain, the more likely an individual is to remember details intrinsically linked to the emotional aspect of the event, such as the exact appearance of the gun.

Kensinger argues that identifying the effects of negative emotion on memory for detail may, one day, save our lives by guiding our actions and allowing us to plan for similar future occurrences.

“These benefits make sense within an evolutionary framework. It is logical that attention would be focused on potentially threatening information,” says Kensinger.

She adds that this line of research has in-depth implications in understanding autobiographical memory and assessing the validity of eyewitness testimony. Kensinger also believes that this research may end insight into the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder.

The study is published in the August issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.


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