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Gepubliceerd in: Psychological Research 8/2020

20-06-2019 | Original Article

The devil is in the details: investigating the influence of emotion on event memory using a simulated event

Auteurs: Adam R. Congleton, Dorthe Berntsen

Gepubliceerd in: Psychological Research | Uitgave 8/2020

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Abstract

In our everyday lives, the negative events we experience sometimes include powerful, salient details which are ultimately responsible for us interpreting the events as negative (i.e., they drive our interpretation of the emotional valence of the event). Here we examined how the presence of such details within an event shapes our memory of that event. Research on the role of emotion in memory suggests that negative events are often remembered more accurately than positive ones, and this advantage is especially pronounced for the emotion-defining details of the events. However, research rarely separates retrieval effects from effects of attention and information processing during encoding. Here we used a simulated event to examine (1) whether negative events are remembered more accurately than positive events, (2) whether this effect is more pronounced for the emotion-defining detail of the event, (3) whether participants display enhanced accuracy for all aspects of an event (i.e., general memory enhancement) or for only certain aspects of the event (i.e., selective memory enhancement), and (4) whether any enhancement effects for central aspects of the event occur at the expense of contextual information (i.e., memory narrowing). Across three experiments, participants showed superior memory accuracy for the central details of the event in general, while those who interpreted the event as emotionally negative also displayed selective enhancement of the peripheral details. The results further suggested that it was the unexpectedness and/or salience introduced by the emotion-defining detail that was essential to enhancing memory accuracy, and not its goal relevance.

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Voetnoten
1
The choice of this story as part of our materials did not reflect any sympathy with burglars or thieves, or any other illegal activity. Rather, the story was chosen to create an emotional event that was not offensive (e.g., through the use of highly upsetting scenes or images). We followed the example of Anderson and Pichert (1978), who likewise asked the participants to view a story from the point of view of a potential burglar.
 
2
As there was never a significant difference across conditions in any of the experiments with regard to critical lures, we will not be discussing them further. Since the participants were demonstrating near-ceiling effects of accuracy regarding these questions, we can consider them as another manipulation check demonstrating that participants were indeed paying careful attention to the video during encoding.
 
3
To determine if our positive valence condition was positive with respect to the neutral rating on the scale used in this study to assess emotional valence, we conducted one-sample t tests for both the positive and negative valence conditions, where we compared the mean of participants’ self-reported emotional valence of each condition to the neutral rating of the scale. The results of these tests demonstrated that both conditions significantly differed from the neutral rating point (i.e., the midpoint of 4 on a 7 point Likert-type scale) in their respective directions on the rating scale (positive valence condition: M = 5.02, SD 1.48, t(99) = 6.87, p < 0.001; negative valence condition: M = 2.75, SD 1.70, t(99) = -7.37, p < 0.001).
 
4
To ensure that the only difference between the saliency conditions was participants’ accuracy regarding the critical final detail of the man/gate, we examined participants’ accuracy regarding the final detail (man vs. gate) compared to the mean of their accuracy for all of the other central detail questions combined (excluding the final detail question). The results revealed there were no differences between the conditions in terms of participants’ accuracy for all of the central details except for the man and gate (M_Positive = 0.66, M_Negative = 0.65). However, as previously reported, participants in the negative valence condition were significantly more accurate regarding the final detail of the man (M = 0.84) compared to those in the positive valence condition regarding the final detail of the garden gate (M = 0.35).
 
5
Of course, one cannot rule out the possibility that the central details included in this study were remembered better because of potentially greater inherent saliency of (some of) these details. However, many of the details identified as “central” would most likely not have been considered salient if they were not relevant to the goal of being a thief (e.g., the flat-screen TV in the living room, which was not particularly unique, but could be considered a desirable object for a thief to steal). Of course, distinguishing between the effects of the inherent saliency of details and their increased salience as a result of being goal relevant is beyond the scope of this study.
 
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Metagegevens
Titel
The devil is in the details: investigating the influence of emotion on event memory using a simulated event
Auteurs
Adam R. Congleton
Dorthe Berntsen
Publicatiedatum
20-06-2019
Uitgeverij
Springer Berlin Heidelberg
Gepubliceerd in
Psychological Research / Uitgave 8/2020
Print ISSN: 0340-0727
Elektronisch ISSN: 1430-2772
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-019-01215-0