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The power of negative and positive episodic memories

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Abstract

The power of episodic memories is that they bring a past moment into the present, providing opportunities for us to recall details of the experiences, reframe or update the memory, and use the retrieved information to guide our decisions. In these regards, negative and positive memories can be especially powerful: Life’s highs and lows are disproportionately represented in memory, and when they are retrieved, they often impact our current mood and thoughts and influence various forms of behavior. Research rooted in neuroscience and cognitive psychology has historically focused on memory for negative emotional content. Yet the study of autobiographical memories has highlighted the importance of positive emotional memories, and more recently, cognitive neuroscience methods have begun to clarify why positive memories may show powerful relations to mental wellbeing. Here, we review the models that have been proposed to explain why emotional memories are long-lasting (durable) and likely to be retrieved (accessible), describing how in overlapping—but distinctly separable—ways, positive and negative memories can be easier to retrieve, and more likely to influence behavior. We end by identifying potential implications of this literature for broader topics related to mental wellbeing, education, and workplace environments.
Vol.:(0123456789)
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Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
https://doi.org/10.3758/s13415-022-01013-z
THEORETICAL REVIEW
The power ofnegative andpositive episodic memories
SamanthaE.Williams1· JaclynH.Ford1· ElizabethA.Kensinger1
Accepted: 4 May 2022
© The Author(s) 2022
Abstract
The power of episodic memories is that they bring a past moment into the present, providing opportunities for us to recall details
of the experiences, reframe or update the memory, and use the retrieved information to guide our decisions. In these regards,
negative and positive memories can be especially powerful: Life’s highs and lows are disproportionately represented in memory,
and when they are retrieved, they often impact our current mood and thoughts and influence various forms of behavior. Research
rooted in neuroscience and cognitive psychology has historically focused on memory for negative emotional content. Yet the
study of autobiographical memories has highlighted the importance of positive emotional memories, and more recently, cog-
nitive neuroscience methods have begun to clarify why positive memories may show powerful relations to mental wellbeing.
Here, we review the models that have been proposed to explain why emotional memories are long-lasting (durable) and likely
to be retrieved (accessible), describing how in overlapping—but distinctly separable—ways, positive and negative memories
can be easier to retrieve, and more likely to influence behavior. We end by identifying potential implications of this literature
for broader topics related to mental wellbeing, education, and workplace environments.
Keywords Emotional memory· Valence· Encoding· Retrieval
Episodic memories are powerful in their ability to transport us
back in time, allowing us to reexperience and reflect on past
moments (Tulving, 1972). As eloquently described by the con-
cept of the “episodic buffer” (Baddeley, 2000), when we bring
an episodic memory to mind, we bring the past into the pre-
sent—into the current content of our consciousness. By doing
so, we use the past to guide our current decisions and to shape
our predictions about future occurrences (Gershman, 2017).
Most people have the intuition that emotional experiences—
those that get our heart racing or that elicit a positive or negative
reaction—are more likely to be retained in memory, and the data
support this conjecture. While we do not retain all the details of
an emotional experience accurately (Neisser & Harsch, 1992), we
are less likely to altogether forget that it occurred (Kensinger &
Schacter, 2008; Yonelinas & Ritchey, 2015). Meanwhile, many
of life’s more mundane moments crumble from our memory
stores, losing the ability to influence our behavior or predictions.
Emotional experiences also can be more accessible in
memory than neutral experiences (Buchanan, 2007; van
Schie etal., 2015). We may have to search effortfully to
recall the last birthday of an acquaintance, whereas the
details of a past emotional event may spring to mind effort-
lessly as we approach its anniversary. Thus, the collection
of episodic memories available for us to bring into present
consciousness will be biased toward the highs and lows that
we have experienced, giving them more influence over our
current decisions and predictions for the future.
We first review the evidence for the power of negative
memories and then for the power of positive memories. We
explain how emotion evokes mechanisms that lead these expe-
riences to be retained in memory and accessed at retrieval, and
we describe some of the consequences that the durability of
these emotional memories have on our decisions, behaviors,
and wellbeing. We end by pointing out potential implications
of this literature for broader topics related to mental wellbe-
ing, education, and workplace environments.
A Note onTerminology
Before launching into this review, we want to note some com-
mon confusions that can arise when using the term “emotional
memory.” We use this term to describe how the emotion during
* Elizabeth A. Kensinger
elizabeth.kensinger.1@bc.edu
1 Department ofPsychology andNeuroscience, Boston
College, McGuinn Hall, Rm 300, 140 Commonwealth Ave.,
ChestnutHill, MA02467, USA
Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
1 3
an initial experience affects episodic memory. Although this
is a common use of the term, there are several other ways that
people might use or interpret the phrase “emotional memory”
(see Box1). Throughout this article, we will use “emotional
memory,” and its branches of “negative memory” and “posi-
tive memory,” to refer to episodic memories for events that
initially elicited a negative or positive affective response.
Box1. Clarifying terminology
We define emotional memory as memory for a past event that
elicited an emotional response.
This definition should not be confused with other possible meanings
of “emotional memory”:
- The emotion of the memory. The use of “emotional” as a
modifier to “memory” might suggest that it is the emotion of
the memory that is being described. Yet as we use the term, it is
entirely possible to have an “emotional memory” with episodic
content, but little emotion reexperienced at the time the memory
is brought to mind.
- Memory for a past emotional state. “Emotional memory” also
could refer to memory of a past emotion, with the individual try-
ing to remember how they felt previously. But in most studies of
“emotional memory,” what is being queried is not memory for the
emotion, but rather memory for the experience that triggered the
earlier emotional response. Furthermore, extensive research has
shown that people are quite bad at remembering a past emotional
(or other mental) state; there can be disconnects between the
emotional intensity experienced at encoding and retrieval (Hutch-
ison etal., 2021; Levine etal., 2020), and the emotional state we
remember has as much to do with the state we are currently in
as with the state we previously experienced (Chang etal., 2018;
Levine, 1997).
- Modulation of memory by mood or stress. Sometimes, “emo-
tional memory” can encompass the study of how a person’s
emotional state—the mood they are in or their stress level—influ-
ences memory. We do not specifically delve into these influences
here, although in some studies it is ambiguous whether effects are
driven only by short-lived emotional reactions or by longer-term
changes in a person’s state.
- Memory for events that triggered feelings. When many affective
scientists use the term “emotion,” they are talking about states
associated with some conscious feeling and often are referring to
feeling-states that we name (happiness, sadness, etc.). While there
are some exceptions (Riegel etal., 2022), the bulk of the studies
on “emotional memory” do not focus on discrete emotions (e.g.,
distinguishing fear memories from disgust memories). Moreover,
many who study “emotional memory,” including ourselves, do not
assume that participants are experiencing consciously accessible
feeling states in all paradigms (such as when we use stimuli-like
words or photo-objects that are only seen for a few seconds).
Given the way terms, such as “emotion” and “affect” are used in
much current-day discussion (Barrett & Bliss-Moreau, 2009),
“memory for affective experiences”—while a mouthful—might
be a more accurate summary of what the bulk of research on
“emotional memory” has studied. Nevertheless, we will stick
with the more commonly used term “emotional memory,” and its
derivatives “negative memory” and “positive memory,” to refer to
memories for events that, at the time of their occurrence, elicited a
negative or positive affective response.
Evidence forthePower ofNegative Episodic
Memories
The study of emotional memories has, until recent years,
been dominated by the study of negative memory. It is
still the case that many papers whose titles describe a
study of “emotional memory” are specifically studying
how individuals remember negative content. We glean
this focus on the negative to have occurred for two pri-
mary reasons.
First, there is a clear power to negative memories
and to negative emotions more generally. Baumeister
aptly titled a 2001 paper, “Bad is stronger than good”
(Baumeister etal., 2001). While it remains debated
why that is the case (Alves etal., 2017; Lazarus, 2021),
the result often is replicated across many domains. As
outlined by Baumeister, people typically attend more
to negative information than positive and weight losses
more than gains. When constrained to the types of
stimuli and participant populations traditionally used
in psychology experiments, negativity biases in mem-
ory are likely to occur (Bebbington etal., 2017; Vaish
etal., 2008). Negative memories also may be particu-
larly durable; individuals may retrieve more remote sad
memories than happy ones (Williamson etal., 2019).
It is important to recognize that part of the reason for
the predominance of the bad may be that, at least for
the types of experiences that can easily be assessed in
experimental settings, the bad tends to be of greater
intensity. It is relatively easy to find photographs or to
create vignettes that most people will find alarming or
distressing. It is harder to find photographs or to cre-
ate scenarios that people will find intensely positive,
and there tends to be more variability in how people
respond to positive stimuli. While this can lead to over-
estimations of the effects conveyed by negative relative
to positive emotion, it also means that when experi-
menters are trying to use stimuli that will maximize the
likelihood of revealing effects of emotion on memory,
a focus on the negative is a good strategy.
Second, much of the work in humans was under-
girded by a robust literature studying memory in
rodents. This literature predominantly focused on how
the arousal responses triggered by a shock or another
short-lived stressor increased the likelihood that those
events were remembered. These memory advantages
were revealed to be linked to engagement of the amyg-
dala and to the ability for the amygdala to modu-
late other medial temporal-lobe and sensory cortical
Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
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regions (McGaugh, 2000; McGaugh, 2004). Although
the amygdala had originally been linked specifically
to fear responses (LeDoux, 2003) and to unpleas-
ant stimuli (Lane etal., 1997; Morris etal., 1996),
it soon became clear that the amygdala responded to
positive as well as negative stimuli (Sergerie etal.,
2008) and that memory enhancements extended to
pleasurable events as well as aversive ones (McIntyre
&Roozendaal, 2007). Despite the advances in the way
amygdala reactivity was understood, the connection of
these memory effects to arousal responses—and the
easier ability to find aversive stimuli that elicit such
arousal—likely kept the literature focused on memory
for negative experiences. So, that is where we will
begin our discussion of the power of emotional epi-
sodic memories.
What Gives Negative Episodic Memories
Their Power?
An obvious answer to the question of what gives negative
memories their power is that these memories stick around
in our memory stores. From rodents to humans, and from
simplistic stimuli to autobiographical experiences, there
is abundant evidence that negative content is more likely
to be remembered than neutral content, especially over
longer-term durations. That is, negative content has a shal-
lower forgetting curve than neutral content (Yonelinas &
Ritchey, 2015 for review). Negative memories also may be
powerful, because the cues to that content are prioritized
at retrieval, and when these memories return to mind, they
feel vivid, and people have confidence in their content.
Thus, negative memories are powerful, because they have
a strength of encoding and consolidation mechanisms that
make them durable and because at the time of retrieval,
they are accessible and vivid (Figure1). We describe these
features in more detail.
Negative Memories are Durable
We tend to retain even mundane experiences in memory
for short periods of time. We can remember what we just
ate for lunch or who sat next to us in the classroom ear-
lier today. Where negative memories start to more notice-
ably diverge from memories of the mundane is when we
examine memory over longer time-frames. We probably
cannot remember what we ate for lunch 2 weeks ago or
who sat next to us in the classroom on the third day of
the semester. However, if we found a hair in our food or
if our classmate tripped over our backpack on the way
to their desk, memory for those negative experiences is
likely to stick around longer.
Many models have been proposed to account for
this enhanced durability of emotional memories (see
Figure2 for overview of models of emotional mem-
ory). The modulation model, developed from studies in
rodents, was the first formalized model to explain the
emotional enhancement of memory (McGaugh, 2000),
and in particular to explain the time-dependency of the
enhancement. (We say “formalized model,” because the
“now print” mechanism proposed for Flashbulb Memo-
ries by Brown & Kulik, 1977 was an influential frame-
work for understanding emotional memories). Extensive
research demonstrated that the arousal associated with
a (negative) emotional event triggered stress hormones
that set off a cascade of processes resulting in upregula-
tion of amygdala function and increasing amygdala-hip-
pocampal connectivity (McGaugh, 2004) and synergy
of action (Richter-Levin & Akirav, 2000).
This model emphasized the importance of processes
that unfolded during or shortly after an experience
to influence the durability of a memory. Not surpris-
ingly, given the influence of this model, the bulk of
the initial research trying to understand the durability
of humans’ negative episodic memories focused on
those phases as well (reviewed by Hamann, 2001).
These studies’ results were generally consistent
with the modulation model: amygdala activity was
enhanced during the successful encoding of negative
content, and its relation to memory often was related
to its interactions with the hippocampus (Richardson
etal., 2004).
As additional research was conducted, and as experimen-
tal designs were expanded to measure additional aspects of
episodic memories, it became clear that the modulation
model was unlikely to be sufficient to explain the charac-
teristics of negative episodic memories. In particular, the
modulation model appeared insufficient in describing two
key aspects of emotional memories: their tendency to show
selective memory enhancements (see also Box2), and the
ability for there to be short-term enhancements in memory
before consolidation processes had sufficient time to unfold.
Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
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Fig. 1 Power of Negative Memories. Processes that unfold during
the experience of a negative event, and in the seconds, minutes, and
hours that follow, can lead these memories to be durable. Emotional
enhancements of memory (EEM) can occur when memory is tested
after only a short delay (immediate EEM), and these enhancements
can grow as the delay interval increases (delayed EEM). Processes
that unfold at retrieval also can increase the likelihood that a retrieval
cue brings a negative memory to mind and that the memory is sub-
jectively vivid. Often, what is prioritized at retrieval are the negative
details of an event, while the associated contextual details may not be
brought to mind. Of course, the processes that unfold at each phase
of memory interact with one another, and some of the selectivity of
negative memories, such as the tendency for negative memories to
retain some details but not others, or for the EEM to be stronger in
mixed-lists than pure-lists, likely reflect the way that processes span
across these phases. All figures show mock data; see text for descrip-
tion of related studies
Fig. 2 Models of Emotional Memory. There are multiple models of emotional memory. Many are not mutually exclusive, as they focus on differ-
ent phases of memory or on different characteristics of memory
Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
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Box2. Models of Selective Memory Enhancements.
There has been longstanding interest in the “memory trade-offs”
that occur for emotional memories. Loftus etal. (1987) noted the
“weapon focus effect,” whereby individuals remember a weapon
but not details of the perpetrator or broader context. Similarly,
Reisberg and Heuer (2007) described “emotional memory narrow-
ing,” and Safer etal. (1998) discussed “tunnel memory.” Adolphs
etal. (2001) described how emotion seemed to enhance the gist
for what had happened but to impair memory for details, and
Kensinger and colleagues(Kensinger etal., 2005;Kensinger &
Schacter,2006a)described how emotion can lead central details
to be remembered at the expense of their peripheral context.
The Arousal Biased Competition (ABC) theory (Mather &
Sutherland, 2011) rooted these findings in the biased competition
literature (Desimone & Duncan, 1995). Biased competition mod-
els essentially propose that there is a tug-of-war for attentional
resources, with high-priority stimuli winning and low-priority
stimuli losing. ABC suggests that in the presence of arousal, there
is an amplification of this tug-of-war, such that the high-priority
stimuli take even more of the resources and the low-priority
stimuli are left with even less. Support for this model has come
from behavioral studies, showing that when a shock or other
arousing stimulus is presented, it leads to a greater discrepancy in
processing and in memory for the high-priority stimuli (Suther-
land & Mather, 2012). Additionally, a neuroimaging study showed
that relative to a CS- control tone, when a CS+ tone (predicting
a shock) was played, there was both enhanced visual activity for
a high-priority visual stimulus and also reduced activity for the
low-priority stimulus (Lee etal., 2014). These results suggest that
arousal does not uniformly enhance perceptual processing but
may do so specifically for high-priority content (see also Clewett
&Murty, 2019). It has more recently been proposed, and formal-
ized in the Glutamate Amplifies Noradrenergic Effects (GANE)
model, that the neurobiological mechanism underlying this
arousal-biased competition may be that “hot spots” are created by
synergies between norepinephrine and glutamate release (Mather
etal., 2016).
Durability for select aspects of negative experiences Epi-
sodic memories are defined by the presence of contextual
elements; this context is what makes these memories for
events (episodes) rather than semantic memories for con-
tent void of any context. The multidimensional nature of
that context means there are emotional parts to the expe-
rience and a myriad of other contextual features that are
inconsequential to the emotional experience. Given the
role of the hippocampus in binding many of those contex-
tual details together into a stable representation (for differ-
ent frameworks for this binding, see Backus etal., 2016;
Moses & Ryan, 2006; Yonelinas etal., 2019), the modula-
tion model might lead to the prediction that negative events
should be remembered with a robust array of details. Yet the
data have not borne out this prediction (Bisby & Burgess,
2014; Mather, 2016; Sutherland & Mather, 2012). In most
cases, individuals remember only select content of negative
experiences well. There remain debates about how best to
characterize the mnemonic associations that are enhanced
vs. impaired vs. unaffected by negative arousal. The distinc-
tions may relate to how “intrinsic” the details are to the item
(Kensinger, 2009; Mather, 2007) with features that are inher-
ent to the stimulus, such as an object’s identity or color, pri-
oritized in memory. For example, Palombo, Te, etal. (2021)
designed an experiment in which participants viewed short
video clips with inserted negative or neutral objects. Par-
ticipants were asked to indicate whether they recognized the
object, when during the video clip they had seen the object,
and what other scenes had occurred within the same vide-
oclip. Results revealed that negative emotion (compared to
neutral) was related to improved recognition accuracy and
temporal-order memory for the objects but poorer perfor-
mance for choosing the scenes from the same videoclip. In
other words, individuals remembered the emotional object
from the film and approximately when in the clip it had
appeared, but not the broader context in which the emotional
object had appeared. The literature has more generally sug-
gested that, for experiences with negative content, there may
be a shift from prefrontally guided integration of content,
which allows for retention of broader contextual information,
and toward a reliance on sensory processing, which allows
for retention of more item-specific detail (Bowen, Kark, &
Kensinger, 2018). Content perceptually bound to the emo-
tional item may be disproportionately remembered (Murray
& Kensinger, 2014), while other aspects are forgotten.
The selective memory enhancements also may relate to
the goal-states of the individual and the alignment of fea-
tures with a participants’ encoding goals (Kaplan etal.,
2012; Levine & Edelstein, 2009). For instance, when par-
ticipants are explicitly instructed to process all elements
of a scene (Kensinger & Schacter, 2008), they do better at
remembering all elements of negative scenes, including the
contextual details, compared with a naturalistic viewing
condition; and when individuals are asked to unitize nega-
tive and neutral items together, creating a single, coherent
representation, they are able to do so faster than for two
neutral items (reviewed by Murray & Kensinger, 2013). In
other words, when explicitly instructed to bind a contextual
element to a negative item, individuals can use their encod-
ing goals to do this more efficiently, but they do not appear
to do so by default.
These memory enhancements for select aspects of expe-
riences, and the corresponding evidence that contextual
elements are often poorly remembered, is inconsistent with
positive interactions between the amygdala and the hip-
pocampus. Of course, the modulation model does not require
that there are always these positive interactions, and indeed
many have theorized of the amygdala and hippocampal
memory systems as those that operate independently, except
when they coordinate to support emotional memory (Phelps,
2004; Yang & Wang, 2017). However, there has been an
alternate view in the human cognition literature for some
time, with ideas of a “hot” emotional/fear, amygdala-driven
system and a “cool” cognitive, hippocampal-driven memory
Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
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system, with these systems being proposed to often act in
opposition to one another (Metcalfe & Jacobs, 1996, 1998).
Some studies of human memory are consistent with this
idea of these systems acting in opposition, such as research
demonstrating that while item memory is usually enhanced
for negative relative to neutral stimuli, associative memory
often is impaired (Bisby etal., 2016; Bisby & Burgess, 2014;
Madan etal., 2012).
In their emotional binding model, Yonelinas and Ritchey
(2015) proposed another alternative for the way to consider
the roles of the amygdala and the hippocampus in emotional
memory. They expanded upon an influential model of human
episodic memory (Diana, Yonelinas, & Ranganath, 2007), in
which the hippocampus serves to bind contextual details into
an episodic memory representation, building in emotional
memory by proposing that the amygdala separately acts to
bind items to their emotional salience. Recent evidence to
support this model has come from studies demonstrating that
emotionality is only associated with an item when there is
explicit recognition of that item (Bell etal., 2017; Palombo,
Elizur, etal., 2021). In the absence of item recognition, indi-
viduals cannot remember whether snakes are poisonous or
nonpoisonous (Bell etal., 2017), and a transfer of valence
from a negative item to a neutral item seems to occur only
if the neutral item was episodically bound to the negative
item (Palombo, Elizur, etal., 2021). These results suggest
the possibility that emotion may be inextricably bound to
item representations in episodic memory and unable to be
retrieved in the absence of those item representations.
A nice feature of the emotional binding model is that it
does not require there to be opposition between the amyg-
dala-binding and hippocampal-binding systems. It can allow
for some situations in which amygdala-binding may take
place at the expense of hippocampal-binding, which often
is discussed when talking about the “weapon focus effect”
(Loftus etal., 1987) and the tendency for negative memories
to become separated from the context in which they occurred
(Bisby & Burgess, 2017). The model also allows for other
situations in which amygdala-binding may co-occur with
hippocampal-binding, as may occur when emotional expe-
riences are more likely to be remembered with their spa-
tial (Schmidt etal., 2011) or temporal (Palombo, Te, etal.,
2021) context, and as originally proposed by the modulation
model.
Strength of encoding contributes to memory’s durabil-
ity While the modulation model and the emotional bind-
ing model both focus on processes specific to emotional
memories, Talmi (2013) compellingly reviewed evidence
that emotional memories also benefit from mechanisms that
are engaged for many experiences and simply enhanced
for emotional ones. Talmi’s mediation model proposes
that emotional experiences benefit from boosted attention,
elaboration, and organizational processes implemented at
encoding (Talmi, 2013). A key element of this model is that
it can explain emotional memory enhancements that arise
over short-term delays; it does not require time for consoli-
dation processes to unfold.
There is evidence that, at least in younger adults (see
Box4 for discussion of older adults), the types of encoding
processes outlined by the mediation model may be particu-
larly likely to be engaged for negative information (Kang
etal., 2014; Kensinger, 2008; Ochsner, 2000), perhaps in
part because of the modes of cognitive processing that nega-
tive emotions catalyze (Schwarz & Clore, 1996; Storbeck,
2012; Storbeck & Clore, 2005). That is, we remember nega-
tive experiences well, because they are prioritized for pro-
cessing, and we grant them more of the cognitive processes
that are well-known to increase the likelihood that an event
becomes a part of our memory representations. For instance,
Talmi etal. (2008) provided evidence for the attentional
mediation of the emotional enhancement of memory. They
asked participants to view negative arousing or neutral pic-
tures under conditions that varied the attentional resources
granted to those images, and then they gave participants an
immediate recognition memory test. Results revealed that
the immediate emotional enhancement of memory was
related to the recruitment of a region of the left fusiform
gyrus that also was associated with increased attention to
the negative images.
Evidence for the impact of encoding processes on nega-
tive memories’ durability has come from studies examin-
ing how emotion regulation impacts subsequent memory.
Multiple studies have revealed that when participants are
asked to engage in cognitive reappraisal—that is, to reframe
an experience to make it less negative—memory for those
experiences is enhanced (Kim & Hamann, 2012; Leventon
etal., 2018). These studies can be thought of as testing the
relative impact of the types of processes encompassed in the
mediation model and those arousal-related processes empha-
sized in the modulation and emotional binding models. That
is, cognitive reappraisal asks participants to grant additional
attention and elaboration to negative stimuli (increasing those
processes emphasized in the mediation model) to reduce the
arousal associated with those stimuli (reducing the types of
specialized mechanisms emphasized in the modulation and
emotional binding models). The fact that this type of reap-
praisal leads to memory benefits for the negative content
suggests the remarkable power of those cognitive processes
that boost emotional memory via nonarousal-modulated
mechanisms. They can enhance memory—includingover a
longer-term delay of two weeks (Kim & Hamann, 2012)—
evenwhile diminishing(though not entirely removing) the
possibility of arousal-modulation processes.
Although the mediation model was proposed to
explain the emotional memory enhancements over shorter
Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
1 3
time-frames, it is worth considering that these factors also
could explain some aspects of the time-dependent enhance-
ments for emotional information. It is plausible that when
experiences (neutral or emotional) garner more atten-
tion, elaboration, and organization, this leads to increased
rehearsal or reactivation over subsequent delays. Christian-
son (1992) emphasized the importance of rehearsal for the
maintenance of emotional memories. It is well known that
sleep, and other rest-filled delays, can serve as a time in
which experiences are reactivated in memory, with some
of the signals as to which memories ought to be reacti-
vated coming from prioritization signals set up at encod-
ing (reviewed by Payne & Kensinger, 2018). While these
prioritization signals are often discussed in the context of
emotional tagging, arising via arousal responses and amyg-
dala activation (Richter-Levin & Akirav, 2003), prioriti-
zation signals can also arise due to goal-states related to
anticipated future-relevance of stimuli. For instance, when
students highlight material (Lo etal., 2016) or study material
they know they will later be tested on (Bennion etal., 2016),
those aspects are preferentially consolidated over sleep-filled
delays. In at least some designs, these prioritization signals
can even win out over any affective-tagging elicited by emo-
tional content. For instance, Bennion etal. (2016) revealed
that intentional encoding was such a strong boost to retention
of information over a sleep-filled delay that, while emotional
content was preferentially retained over sleep when it was
incidentally encoded, the neutral items rose to nearly the
level of the emotional items when they had been intention-
ally encoded for a memory test that participants knew would
occur after the period of sleep.
Summary of factors leading to negative memories’ durabil-
ity In summary, extensive research has shown that negative
memories are more durable than other types of memories.
Their durability likely stems from multiple factors: Nega-
tive experiences are granted additional cognitive resources
during encoding, aiding memory in the short-term (media-
tion model; Talmi, 2013) and providing prioritization sig-
nals that increase the likelihood that those experiences are
later rehearsed (Christianson, 1992) or reactivated (Payne
& Kensinger, 2018) in ways that benefit their maintenance
over the longer-term. Negative experiences can also trigger
mnemonic mechanisms that more directly influence consoli-
dation. Sometimes, increased engagement of the hippocam-
pus may contribute to the memory’s durability over time
(modulation model; McGaugh, 2000, 2004). Other times,
amygdala engagement can be sufficient to trigger item stor-
age in the absence of hippocampal engagement (emotional
binding model; Yonelinas & Ritchey, 2015). Importantly,
what is durably retained are select portions of the emotional
experience: those item aspects that were bound to the emo-
tional salience (emotional binding model) and those aspects
that, through emotional salience or goal-relevance, won out
in prioritized competition for encoding resources (ABC and
GANE models; Mather & Sutherland, 2011, Mather etal.,
2016; see Figure2 for depiction of these models of emo-
tional memory).
Negative Content isPrioritized atRetrieval
andVividly Recollected
We all have examples of exceptionally vivid memories for
particularly emotional, significant, and distinct events in our
lives. Highly arousing personal memories stand out among
more neutral autobiographical memories because of this
increased vividness (Berntsen, 2001; Bohanek etal., 2005;
Reisberg etal., 1988) and accessibility over time (Waters
& Leeper, 1936). Our intuition tells us that these memories
should also be more accurate, but this is often not the case. A
landmark study by Neisser and Harsch (1992) revealed that
in cases of “flashbulb memories” (Brown & Kulik, 1977),
individuals remain highly confident in their memory for the
details of the event, even though those details can become
degraded and distorted over time. Talarico and Rubin (2003)
expanded upon this important finding, declaring “Confi-
dence, not consistency, characterizes flashbulb memories.”
In other words, during retrieval, individuals experience
inflated confidence for emotional memories, believing their
memory to be accurate even when objective metrics suggest
otherwise.
Initially, these results seemed contradictory with evidence
that negative memories were often associated with a greater
sense of recollection: Both when the retrieval cues themselves
are emotional (Kensinger & Corkin, 2003; Ochsner, 2000)
and when memory is assessed for neutral items encoded in
negative versus neutral contexts (Jaeger etal., 2009; Mara-
tos & Rugg, 2001; Smith etal., 2004), individuals are more
likely to report that they have a vivid, specific recollection
of a past negative event than of a past neutral event. Indeed,
there are dissociations between the subjective vividness of a
memory and its accuracy (Brewin & Langley, 2019). Phelps
and Sharot (2008) argued that one reason for this disconnect
is because of differences in the way that details of emotional
versus neutral memories aggregate to affect the subjective
experience of recollection associated with those memories.
For emotional memories, individuals may base their recol-
lective experiences on the strength or quality of a few select
details, while for neutral memories, individuals may base
their recollections on a broader and aggregated set of details.
Indeed, when thinking back on the most negative events
from our personal past, we tend to focus on those aspects
that we think of as the most central to the event, rather than
peripheral details (Berntsen, 2002; Talarico etal., 2009).
Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
1 3
It is almost as if people do not realize that there are missing
details (Phelps & Sharot, 2008; Sharot etal., 2004) and that
the visuo-perceptual vividness of their negative memories is
fading with time (Cooper etal., 2019). This focus on selec-
tive portions may arise because those aspects are associated
with prioritized search and elaboration processes, but with
reduced monitoring at retrieval (Figure1). Individuals may
end their search for event details prematurely, once the nega-
tive elements come to mind, or they may skip to elaborating
on the negative elements without monitoring for the accu-
racy or completeness of the retrieved content. In other words,
metamemory or memory monitoring failures may account for
some of the overconfidence in these memories’ accuracy (see
discussion in Krug, 2007).
Considering the emotional binding model, another way
to understand this pattern may be that, at retrieval, there
is a prioritization of accessing the details retained via
amygdala binding, with less emphasis given to retrieving
details retained via hippocampal binding. Although this
remains speculative, it would be consistent with a mystery
in the literature: There are robust trade-offs in memory
when tested via recognition. That is, individuals do bet-
ter at recognizing emotional elements within scenes than
neutral elements, but they do worse at recognizing the
contexts in which emotional versus neutral elements were
presented (Kensinger & Corkin, 2004;Kensinger etal.,
2007). However, if the task is switched from a recognition
task to a cued-recall task, where individuals are asked to
generate the context that had been paired with an object,
or vice-versa, there is a cued-recall advantage for the nega-
tive scenes (Madan etal., 2020; Mickley Steinmetz etal.,
2016). While future work is needed to elucidate the basis
for this dissociation, one possibility is that the cued-recall
instructions, by putting emphasis on the retrieval of the
association, force a focus onto details stored via hippocam-
pal binding; by contrast, recognition instructions, by ena-
bling a reliance on item processing alone, may keep the
reliance on those details retained via amygdalar binding.
More generally, these results are important in showcasing
that the degree of selectivity for negative versus neutral
memories can sometimes be related to how details are
brought to mind at the moment of retrieval rather than to
whether those details exist at all within the memory trace.
These behavioral data—showing dissociations between
recognition and cued recall, and demonstrating discon-
nects between metrics of subjective vividness and objective
memory content—imply an effect of emotion on retrieval
and retrieval monitoring. As described earlier, much of the
initial focus into understanding the cognitive neuroscience
of emotional memory was on the processes that unfolded as
an event was experienced and initially consolidated. Within
the last few years, there has been a more direct focus on
the role of retrieval processes in giving negative emotional
memories their power. Here, we describe two models that
focus specifically on how negative memories are prioritized
at retrieval (eCMR; Talmi etal., 2019) and recollected with
sensory detail (NEVER Forget; Bowen, Kark, & Kensinger,
2018).
eCMR: Negative Memories Crowd Out Neutral Memories It is
increasingly appreciated that associations are continuously
being made between content and context—between infor-
mation being learned or retrieved and the context in which
those memory processes are unfolding (Lohnas etal., 2015;
Polyn etal., 2009). It also has been demonstrated that the
internal context of an individual is continually shifting, in
ways that create temporal context shifts over time (Manns
etal., 2007) and enable events to be linked via their shared
temporal overlap (Cai etal., 2016).
A recent model, the emotional Context Maintenance and
Retrieval Model (eCMR) (Talmi etal., 2019), has added
emotion as a contextual dimension that can guide encod-
ing and retrieval processes. This model accounts for the
time-dependency of the emotional enhancement effect by
proposing that emotional context can be more easily rein-
stated after delays than temporal or other contextual con-
texts. As predicted by context models of retrieval, this shared
emotional context can lead to clustering effects in recall,
whereby individuals will cluster their recall of items with
negative emotional content even when those items were
originally studied interspersed with neutral items (Barna-
cle etal., 2016; Long etal., 2015). However, the clustering
effects have not yet been shown to relate to the degree of the
emotional enhancement of memory, a pattern that would be
expected were context effects at retrieval the primary driver
of the memory enhancement.
An important revelation in studies comparing recall of
items presented in pure-lists versus mixed-lists is that recall
of emotional content often “crowds out” neutral content. That
is, the reason why emotional items are remembered better
than neutral items when studied in mixed lists, but not in
pure lists, is largely explained by the fact that recall of neu-
tral items is worse when appearing in mixed lists relative to
appearing in pure lists. Although emotional items are some-
times better remembered in mixed lists compared to pure
lists, this is not always the case (reviewed in Talmi etal.,
2019). This crowding-out effect suggests that some of the
improved accessibility of negative memories at retrieval may
come from the fact that those memories are being selected
at the expense of other neutral content and, once in mind,
Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
1 3
are setting up a context that will further bias the retrieval of
additional negative content.
To our knowledge, eCMR has not yet been applied to
paradigms that examine memory selectivity (e.g., memory
for negative components at the expense of memory for neu-
tral components of a photograph), but it seems plausible
that the emotional context maintained could also be part
of the explanation for the selectivity of memory. This abil-
ity for negative memories to crowd out neutral memories is
reminiscent of trade-off effects, which have recently been
attributed to retrieval effects as well as to encoding effects
(Madan etal., 2020; MickleySteinmetz etal., 2016). Future
work will do well to examine whether retrieval context keeps
memories honed onto the negative components while crowd-
ing out memory for other contextual details.
NEVER Forget: Negative memories yield sensory specificity
and vividness via recapitulation It has long been known
that memory is best when a person’s state at retrieval—be it
internal or external—matches their state at encoding (Tulv-
ing, 1974), with experimental evidence dating back to at
least the 1940s (Abernethy, 1940). eCMR launches from
this premise, expanding from the idea that emotional con-
text is present at encoding and is sufficiently long-lasting to
be recapitulated at retrieval. Another model also launches
from this premise: that recapitulation is central to episodic
memory retrieval, and that the power of negative memories
can be understood by considering what happens when nega-
tive events are recapitulated in memory.
Bowen, Kark, and Kensinger (2018) proposed that Nega-
tive Emotional Valence Enhances Recapitulation (“NEVER
Forget”). When memories are negative, there is an increased
likelihood that the brain reconfigures itself at retrieval to be
in a similar state to the one it was in during encoding. The
model was based on evidence that negative memories are
associated with greater encoding-to-retrieval overlap in a
number of regions, including in sensory-processing regions
(Bowen & Kensinger, 2017a; Kark & Kensinger, 2015). In
fact, even when using exclusively neutral prompts to cue
memory for a previously encountered positive, negative, or
neutral event, one of the strongest predictors of retrieval-
related activity in sensory regions was the valence of the
encoded event (Bowen & Kensinger, 2017b).
Key tenants of that model were tested by Kark and Kens-
inger (2019a, 2019b), who replicated the finding that sen-
sory recapitulation was greater for negative than neutral or
positive memories, and who further showed that the way
sensory regions were incorporated into memory networks
led to those differences at retrieval. In particular, as physi-
ological responding increased during encoding, early visual
cortex regions became functionally connected to the amyg-
dala in a way that enhanced memory for negative, but not
positive or neutral events (Kark & Kensinger, 2019b). In
other words, increased arousal led to the incorporation of
sensory regions into emotional memory networks specifi-
cally for negative stimuli. Moreover, when those sensory
regions stayed incorporated into emotional memory net-
works post-encoding, as measured via resting-state connec-
tivity, that led to a more sensory-driven retrieval of nega-
tive memories and to a greater propensity for participants
to show a negative memory bias. Thus, some of what gives
negative memories their power is their sensory specificity
and their vividness via recapitulation.
Clewett and Murty (2019) have proposed that the neuro-
biological underpinnings of this selective memory phenom-
enon may come from the activation of an arousal-related
locus coeruleus-norepinephrine system. They suggest that
when sympathetic arousal and activation of this system is
high, there is a prioritization of item features at encoding
and a reinstatement of the corresponding lower-level sen-
sory cortical regions during retrieval. By their model, it is
not the negative valence of the experiences per se, but the
arousal and behavioral activation they elicit, and their abil-
ity to engage the norepinephrine system, that drives their
effects on recapitulation. How best to characterize these dif-
ferences—whether they are primarily related to the aversive
or pleasant nature of the experiences or to differences in the
motivational states they elicit—remains an important point
for further research.
Prioritization of Negative Memory Retrieval While the time-
course for these retrieval effects is still being investigated,
extensive work has suggested that stimuli with high intrin-
sic motivational salience—often, high-arousal negative or
threat-related stimuli—are prioritized for rapid access to
retrieval processes. For instance, Jaeger etal. (2009) pre-
sented participants with items encoded in a scene with
negative arousing content or with neutral content and later
tested participants’ memories for the items while measuring
event related potentials (ERPs); the key question was how
the neural markers of retrieval would differ based on the
previously studied encoding context of the items. Although
the precise effects differed based on whether recognition
was tested after 10 min or 24 hours, at both delay intervals,
differences when recognizing items studied in a negative-
arousing context versus a neutral context emerged around
200 ms, relatively early in the retrieval process and before
markers of conscious recollection (see also Bowen, Fields,
& Kensinger, 2018 for evidence of differences that emerged
around 200 ms after retrieval-cue onset). Similarly, Righi
Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
1 3
etal. (2012) presented participants with images of faces
with happy, fearful, or neutral facial expressions. Then, at
retrieval, all individuals were presented with faces display-
ing a neutral expression, and ERP was used to measure the
timecourse of responses as individuals indicated whether
they recognized the face. Because all expressions were
neutral at retrieval, any differences in timecourse would be
based on the different facial expressions seen at encoding.
Faces that had been studied with a fearful expression elicited
ERP markers of enhanced visuo-attentional processing (a
greater P100) and evidence of primed facial feature process-
ing (a reduced N170 combined with a larger early fronto-
central effect).
Negative memories may also enhance later recollective
signatures and may engage later, postretrieval processes
differently. For instance, Ventura-Bort etal. (2020) dem-
onstrated that the late parietal old/new effect (occurring
approximately 600-800 ms poststimulus) was evoked for
old items previously associated with a (negative) emotional
background. They additionally found that a waveform later
in the retrieval epoch (800 ms and beyond) was enhanced
for objects that had been encoded in that emotional con-
text. Other ERP studies also have demonstrated that when
images are unpleasant (Lavoie & O’Connor, 2013) or when
neutral images are studied in negative contexts (Liu etal.,
2021), those retrieval cues can modulate neural signatures
later in the retrieval epoch. These types of results have led to
the postulation that negative memories are associated with
different retrieval orientations (Liu etal., 2021), with more
sustained processing (Ventura-Bort etal., 2020), and with
different levels of strategic control during retrieval (Herron,
2017). Together, these results suggest that there may be a
privileged access to negative memories, and that once they
are brought to mind, there is additional processing granted
to the negative content of those memories.
When thePower ofNegative Memories
isMaladaptive
The power of negative memories can differ across people
and across situations, and under some circumstances can
become maladaptive. We briefly review how the power
of negative memories is altered in individuals with affec-
tive disorders, such as depression and posttraumatic stress
disorder (PTSD). We focus specifically on the negative
memory biases that often exist in these disorders and can
correlate with symptom severity, and on the role that rumi-
nation also may play.
Negative memory biases Sometimes, the durability of nega-
tive memories can be problematic for mental wellbeing. In
disorders, such as depression or PTSD, the way negative
information is attended and interpreted is thought to play an
important role (Ledoux & Muller, 1997), leading to negative
memory biases that can contribute to symptom persistence
(Harmer etal., 2009; Imbriano etal., 2022). Negative mem-
ory biases describe the relative quantity of events brought to
mind, such that patients with depressive or PTSD symptoms
are more likely to remember negative over positive or neutral
experiences (Gibbs etal., 2013; Harmer etal., 2009; Imbri-
ano etal., 2022), and this negative memory bias is thought
to catalyze the onset of negative thinking and depressed
mood (Harmer etal., 2009). For example, Imbriano etal.
(2022) found that severity of PTSD symptoms, including
depression, dysphoria, and panic attacks, was related to the
tendency to remember studied negative material more accu-
rately than studied neutral material.
Importantly, negative memory biases can result not
only from enhancements in memory for negative events
but also from reductions in memory for positive events.
For instance, individuals with depression show relative
impairments in memory for positive events compared with
negative or neutral events, possibly because of dysfunc-
tions in the dopaminergic system that would typically
strengthen the encoding of these events into memory (Dil-
lon, 2015; Dillon & Pizzagalli, 2018). Consistent with a
dopaminergic hypothesis, acute administration of dopa-
mine agonists has been shown to increase striatal acti-
vation in response to reward in individuals with major
depressive disorder (Admon etal., 2017), and while there
were not behavioral effects of that acute administration,
longer-term administration of a dopamine agonist has
shown beneficial for reducing symptoms of dysthymia
or depression (Zangani etal., 2021). Similarly, in PTSD,
pharmacological enhancement of cortical dopamine has
shown some benefits for those with severe PTSD, revers-
ing response biases toward fearful stimuli presented on a
working memory task (Westphal etal., 2021).
Rumination Other times, it is not the durability of
negative relative to positive memories that is problem-
atic, but the inability to stop reflecting on particular
Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
1 3
past negative experiences: rumination. Rumination is
present across many affective disorders, and while it
may sometimes be deployed in the hopes of achieving
an adaptive outcome (Lyubomirsky & Nolen-Hoek-
sema, 1993), it instead tends to exacerbate negative
moods and encourage maladaptive problem solving
(Nolen-Hoeksema etal., 2008; Watkins, 2009).
While rumination may sometimes be deployed strategi-
cally, it also may arise because individuals fail to effectively
gate their memory retrieval processes. Fawcett etal. (2015)
revealed that those who ruminate are more likely to have
difficulties controlling the contents of their memory; that
is, they struggle to put unwanted or unneeded memories out
of mind. A recent meta-analysis (Stramaccia etal., 2021)
supported the conjecture that this type of memory suppres-
sion occurred more robustly in healthy individuals than in
anxious or depressed individuals. These results may explain
why rumination can be both a risk factor for the develop-
ment of PTSD and also correlated with the maintenance
of PTSD symptoms (Ehring, Ehlers, & Glucksman, 2008;
Ehring, Frank, & Ehlers, 2008). It is plausible that the inten-
tional focus on a past negative experience, when combined
with a difficulty later suppressing the repeated retrieval of
that experience, is a recipe for an intrusive memory (Ball &
Brewin, 2012).
Modifying theNegativity ofMemories
whileMaintaining their Power
Sometimes, a person can diminish the negativity of a
memory, while retaining some of its power. We describe
how the power of negative memories can be modified via
engagement of emotion regulation strategies that change
how individuals feel in response to an event (i.e., during
event encoding: Gross, 1998) or a memory (i.e., during
event retrieval: Holland & Kensinger, 2013a). We focus
primarily on studies with nonclinical samples, but include
brief discussion of connections to some commonly used
therapies.
Emotion regulation at encoding It is well known that
the intensity of a negative event can be manipulated
at encoding, by engaging in emotion regulation pro-
cesses. A variety of strategies can be implemented, with
different efficacy in-the-moment and with different
consequences for later memory (Gross, 2002). Of the
regulation strategies, cognitive reappraisal is usually
discussed as being one of the most helpful. It works
in-the-moment and is associated with better metrics of
mental wellbeing than many other strategies, such as
suppression or avoidance. As we described earlier, in
the context of our discussion of the mediation model, an
interesting aspect of cognitive reappraisal at encoding is
that it can help to preserve memory for the content of an
experience while stripping some of its affective inten-
sity (Dillon etal., 2007; Richards & Gross, 2000). This
pattern extends to autobiographical experiences: college
students’ use of reappraisal just after a negative event
corresponded with better memory performance and with
a tendency to later underestimate the emotional impact
of the event (Colombo etal., 2021). When you want
to remember the critique given to you by a coworker,
while not being overcome with negative emotion during
the interaction or when reflecting on it later, cognitive
reappraisal may be the strategy of choice.
The neurobiology that makes this possible is still not
fully understood. It is clear that cognitive reappraisal
engages prefrontal processes, often in the service of
downregulating amygdala activity (Banks etal., 2007;
Goldin etal., 2008). It may be that, by engaging those
prefrontal processes that also serve to deepen the level-
of-processing associated with encoding, memory is
enhanced (Pannu Hayes etal., 2010). It also is plausible
that part of the benefit to memory comes from reduc-
ing the experienced negative affect: If negative emotions
shift the balance from a hippocampal-binding system
toward an amygdala-binding system (see Box3), then
using reappraisal to weaken those negative emotions
could help to keep the hippocampal-binding system
engaged, increasing the likelihood that memories are
able to be richly recalled and also decreasing the likeli-
hood that they are recalled in maladaptive ways divorced
from the encoded context. Thus, emotion regulation
at encoding has the interesting potential to reduce the
power of negative emotional memories insofar as it will
reduce the intensity of the experienced negative emotion
at the time of the experience and reduce the likelihood of
maladaptive retrieval.
Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
1 3
Box3. Amygdalar and Hippocampal Binding Systems
The modulation model proposes that arousal, and specifically norepinephrine release, triggers cooperation between the amygdala and the hip-
pocampus (Roozendaal & McGaugh, 2011).
Other research suggests that negative emotion can trigger disconnects between amygdala engagement and hippocampal engagement, consist-
ent with behavioral evidence that negative emotion can lead to memories that are less coherent, with fewer within-event associations (Bisby
& Burgess, 2017; Madan etal., 2017; Palombo, Elizur, etal., 2021). For instance, when individuals studied face-occupation pairs, the
presence of negative occupations were associated with lower hippocampal engagement during encoding and with poorer memory for those
associations (Berkers etal., 2016). Bisby etal. (2016) similarly found that the encoding of negative items was associated with a boost in
amygdala activity but with a decrease in hippocampal activity, corresponding with an increase in item memory but a decrease in associative
memory for those negative items.
Yonelinas and Ritchey’s (2015) Emotional Binding model may provide a framework in which to understand these seemingly conflicting results.
By this model, there are two binding systems at work during encoding: an amygdala-based system, that prioritizes binding the item to its
emotion, and a hippocampal-based system, that prioritizes binding the item to its context.
It is plausible that there are situations in which both systems are engaged, leading emotional items to be remembered in their broader context,
and situations in which it is primarily the amygdala system that is engaged, leading emotional items to be remembered void of their con-
text. An intriguing possibility to be addressed by future research is that negative emotion may create an imbalance between engagement of
the amygdala and hippocampal systems and a shift toward amygdala binding, while positive emotion may be more likely to lead to simulta-
neous engagement of both systems or even a shift toward hippocampal binding.
Emotion regulation at retrieval Not only can experiences
be regulated, but also memories of those experiences can
be regulated. This may be critically important to our mental
health, If in the moment we fail to effectively regulate our
responses to an event, later, as we reflect on the event, we
can have another opportunity to reframe the experience (see
review by Samide & Ritchey, 2021).
Individuals can intentionally and strategically regulate
their responses to their memories, such as when individuals
are specifically instructed to reduce their emotional reactions
to a memory of an encoded negative image or a negative
autobiographical memory (Holland & Kensinger, 2013a,
2013b). In these instances, it seems that individuals bring
the past content into mind and then, similar to emotion
reappraisal at encoding (Morawetz etal., 2017; Ochsner &
Gross, 2005), engage lateral prefrontal control processes to
down-regulate emotion regions and perhaps also sensory
regions. There can be lasting consequences to this type of
Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
1 3
reappraisal, with individuals continuing to rate the memories
as less emotionally intense even after some time has passed
(Holland & Kensinger, 2013a, 2013b).
Strategic cognitive reappraisal may be similar to those
processes encouraged in various forms of therapy (Kred-
low etal., 2018). Broadly, cognitive behavioral therapy
teaches techniques that patients can use to reframe negative
thoughts as more positive ones (Coffey etal., 2015). Cog-
nitive restructuring techniques more specifically encourage
retrieval of a negative past experience, with the goal of the
clinician guiding the rememberer toward a reinterpretation
of the event’s meaning (Beck, 2011). Imagery rescripting
similarly involves the retrieval of a past negative event cou-
pled with the retelling of the memory with the inclusion
of more positive and less negative imagery; this method
has shown promise for multiple affective disorders linked
to maladaptive negative memory retrieval (Morina etal.,
2017).
While we have so far described methods that direct indi-
viduals to reframe or regulate their memories, aversive
memories also may be spontaneous regulated. It is unclear
if most people are able to engage in spontaneous regula-
tion or if it primarily occurs in those individuals who are
chronically motivated to reduce their experience of negative
affect. In contrast to lateral prefrontal regions that may serve
an outsized role in the strategic reappraisal of memories,
the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) may be par-
ticularly important for this type of spontaneous regulation.
Kensinger andFord (2021) have recently proposed that, at
each phase of memory, the dmPFC participates in integrat-
ing the affective components of an experience with its other
content. Through its various connections, including with the
hippocampus (Ford & Kensinger, 2018), it may be able to
play a key role in orchestrating memory framings that will
either emphasize or deemphasize affective components. At
retrieval, this may enable the dmPFC to down- or up-reg-
ulate the vividness of memories for negative images (Ford
& Kensinger, 2017) or to dampen or intensify the focus on
negative details of mixed-valence autobiographical events
(Ford & Kensinger, 2019), even in the absence of explicit
emotion-regulation instructions.
Finally, memories can be regulated by biological means.
Rimmele etal. (2015) had participants read negative and
neutral texts and then, 3 days later, recall the texts with
either pharmacological suppression of cortisol levels or
naturalistic levels. They found that when cortisol was sup-
pressed, retrieval of the negative texts was impaired, with no
corresponding impairment for the neutral texts. Importantly,
these changes were long-lasting, with poorer memory for
those negative texts persisting 1 week later. Although in this
study, the regulation of cortisol happened via pharmacologi-
cal intervention, it also is plausible that individuals could
regulate their cortisol levels via naturalistic means, thereby
weakening the strength of negative memories retrieved in
that altered state.
Importantly, both the pharmacological work and the
broader work on emotion regulation during retrieval (Hol-
land & Kensinger, 2013a) suggests that the effects extend
beyond the single occurrence during which the negative
memory retrieval is regulated. Possibly by affecting the way
that memories are reconsolidated after initial retrieval (Drex-
ler & Wolf, 2017), once a memory is altered via regulation
at retrieval (strategic, spontaneous, or biological), there can
be lasting consequences for its content. We will return to a
discussion of how negative memories may become more
positive over retrievals when we discuss the power of posi-
tive memory retrieval.
Although future work is needed, it is possible that the
timing of regulatory processes during retrieval is impor-
tant. For instance, Holland and Kensinger (2013a, 2013b)
found that when individuals were instructed to increase their
emotional reactions to a negative memory, it was activity
at the time those instructions were received—and before
the memory prompt had appeared—that best corresponded
with their success in upregulating their emotional reactions.
Perhaps relatedly, a recent study (Bridgland & Takarangi,
2021) found that warning participants that retrieving a nega-
tive memory would be upsetting (designed to mirror “trigger
warnings”) led those individuals to report a greater negative
impact of the event than individuals who did not receive that
warning. Thus, it is possible that part of what makes nega-
tive memories powerful relates to whether, before we have
brought the memory to mind, we anticipate the impact of
that recollective experience.
The Power ofNegative Memories
fortheFuture
Kensinger and Ford (2020) noted that although emotional
memory retrieval often is measured as an end-point, as the
culmination of processes that allow content to be accessed, it
also is a starting-point. When we retrieve a memory, we cre-
ate an opportunity to modify the memory representation: we
may embellish some details and diminish emphasis on oth-
ers, and we may reframe an experience, perhaps incorporat-
ing new information that changes our earlier interpretation.
These effects can be long-lasting: Retrieval is a starting-
point in the cycle of a memory, with the way a memory is
retrieved at one time-point influencing how it is re-encoded,
and how related content is encoded and how the memory is
updated. The memories that come to mind can impact small
decisions (Do we return to a restaurant?) and larger ones
(Do we accept the invitation to present at a conference? Do
we go on a second date?). The details that we recall also can
Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
1 3
affect our mental wellbeing and can influence our ability to
effectively empathize with others.
Across many of these domains, negative content holds par-
ticular power. The Availability Heuristic describes the ten-
dency for decision-making to rely on only a small subset of the
total relevant information (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974); while
there are many features that influence what content is used,
content having negative valence is high among them, leading
people to overestimate the likelihood of events, such as a ter-
rorist attack (Sunstein & Zeckhauser, 2011). More generally,
our negative autobiographical memories can serve important
directive functions: informing, guiding, and motivating our
current actions (Rasmussen & Berntsen, 2009). This directive
function is often discussed as being adaptive (i.e., helping us
to better navigate the future), which often occurs by being able
to extract some lesson from a past negative experience (Fig-
ure3). For example, memory for a particularly negative event
(i.e., “rock bottom”) could serve as a turning point, leading
us down a more successful path (i.e., an adaptive function;
Pillemer, 2001, 2003; Habermas & Bluck, 2000). Even the
most traumatic experiences can sometimes serve adaptive self,
social, and directive functions (Pillemer, 2003; Rasmussen
& Berntsen, 2009), a phenomenon known as posttraumatic
growth (Schuettler & Boals, 2011; Tedeschi & Calhoun,
2004). However, recent research suggests that memories for
negative events also can serve maladaptive functions (Bur-
nell etal., 2020); for instance, that memory of “rock bottom”
could cause us to give up on our more challenging goals (i.e.,
a maladaptive function). Thus, it is important to consider that
negative memories, depending on how they are interpreted at
retrieval, have the potential to serve either adaptive or mala-
daptive functions that will alter how decisions are made.
Interestingly, one domain in which the negative does
not seem to win out is in the domain of future prospection.
When individuals think about the future, it often is positive
events that are envisioned (D’Argembeau & Mathy, 2011;
Rasmussen & Berntsen, 2013). People are slower to come up
with negative future events than positive ones (Newby-Clark
& Ross, 2003) and, while highly negative events are recalled
from past time periods, the future projections more likely
to be remembered are those that are positive (Gallo etal.,
2011). Given that there is an immediate causal effect of
positive future prospections on mental wellbeing (Grant &
Wilson, 2021), it may be adaptive for individuals to envision
Fig. 3 Consequences of Negative and Positive Episodic Memory
Retrieval. The way a past negative or positive event is brought to
mind has consequences across multiple domains. These memories
can influence a person’s current affective state (denoted by peach
color) and the way incoming information is processed (in green).
They also can be used in directive ways, to guide actions and deci-
sions (in blue) and, particularly in the case of positive memories,
their retrieval can lead to prosocial behaviors (in yellow)
Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
1 3
a rosier view of their future (MacLeod & Conway, 2005).
Indeed, despite so much research focused on how individuals
remember negative experiences, memory for the good events
from our past can hold tremendous power.
What Gives Positive Memories Their Power?
Positive memories gain power from many of the same fac-
tors that give negative memories their power: They are long-
lasting and highly accessible. While positive memories may
not show the same automaticity of retrieval mechanisms as
negative events, positive events from our personal past come
to mind more frequently than negative events and can do
so involuntarily (Walker etal., 2003). They also are richly
associative, which may increase the likelihood that retrieval
of one positive memory cues another.
Positive memories also hold a power all their own. Unlike
the affect associated with negative memories, which tends
to fade relatively quickly, positive memories are more likely
to retain their affective intensity (Walker etal., 1997; see
recent review by Skowronski etal., 2014). This may be part
of the reason why positive autobiographical memories act
as rewards in themselves (Speer etal., 2014) and can buffer
effects of stress (Speer & Delgado, 2017). Memories for
positive personal events become more integrally tied to our
sense of self and can perpetuate self-esteem (Çili & Stopa,
2015) and become an important part of our life story (Bern-
tsen etal., 2011).
Given these features of positive autobiographical memo-
ries, it may come as no surprise that they have high utility
and can be strategically recalled to good purposes (Figure3).
Positive memories are powerful in their ability to repair our
moods after a negative mood induction (Joormann etal.,
2007; Joormann & Siemer, 2004), to connect us socially
(Rasmussen & Berntsen, 2009; Wolf & Demiray, 2019), and
to inspire us toward prosocial behavior (Gaesser & Schacter,
2014). By activating reward circuitry, they even may trig-
ger mnemonic circuitry that increases the likelihood that we
encode the good in the world around us. We will review the
literature shedding light on the power of positive memories.
Positive Memories are Durable
When we described the power of negative memories, we
described the shallower forgetting curve for those events
compared with neutral events. Studies of autobiographical
memory demonstrate that positive memories also can show
a shallower forgetting curve. We do not just remember a hair
in our food or a classmate tripping over our backpack; we
also remember a dessert accompanied by a birthday can-
dle, or a classmate returning our dropped earbuds. Indeed,
individuals can form flashbulb memories for positive events
(Scott & Ponsoda, 1996), and many of the qualities of flash-
bulb memories can extend to personal events with high
positive valence, such as when college students recall being
asked to join a sorority or fraternity (Kraha & Boals, 2014).
Positive memories also can be harder to put out of mind; in
one recent study, individuals found it harder to direct them-
selves to forget positive social feedback relative to negative
feedback (Xie etal., 2021).
Positive Memories are Associative
The characteristics of memories for highly positive versus
highly negative experiences are not always identical. Most
notably, several reports have suggested that individuals who
feel positively about the outcome of an event recall its details
confidently but with less factual accuracy (Bohn & Bernt-
sen, 2007) or with less consistency over time (Kensinger
& Schacter, 2006b; Holland & Kensinger, 2012) than do
individuals who feel negatively about the outcome (but see
Chiew, 2021 for no effect of valence). In other words, while
negative emotional memories can be subject to distortion
(Pesta etal., 2001) and overconfidence (Talarico & Rubin,
2003), these effects can be exaggerated for positive memo-
ries. For example, Holland and Kensinger (2012) found that
adults recalled details of the 2008 Presidential Election more
consistently over time when they perceived the outcome as
negative compared with positive. These results are consist-
ent with laboratory studies that suggest that memory for pos-
itive experiences often is associated with generally know-
ing that an event occurred rather than being able to recall
specific details (Kensinger, 2009; Kensinger & Kark, 2018;
Ochsner, 2000) and that memory for negative experiences
can be associated with more sensory specificity, whereas
memory for positive experiences can include more of the
conceptual framing or gist (Kensinger, 2009).
The experience of remembering a positive personal event
can feel quite different than that of remembering a negative
event. Positive autobiographical memories often are associ-
ated with increased ratings of vividness and of reexperi-
encing the original event during retrieval compared with
negative events (Ford etal., 2012; Talarico etal., 2004).
Furthermore, while memories of negative autobiographi-
cal experiences tend to exhibit strong item memory at the
expense of associations, memories of positive experiences
seem more likely to retain contextual associations (Talarico
etal., 2009). For instance, Zimmerman and Kelley (2010)
found that when participants were asked to recall which neu-
tral, negative, or positive words had been paired together,
cued recall was better for positive pairs than for neutral or
negative pairs. Madan etal. (2019) replicated this finding
and showed that this improved association memory was
Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
1 3
greater when two positive stimuli were paired together than
when a positive word was paired with a neutral word.
Perhaps relatedly, positive emotion appears to consist-
ently enhance prospective memory. Prospective memory,
which is the ability to remember to complete a task or behav-
ior in the future, requires associating an intention to perform
some action with a cue that occurs later in time—typically
an event-cue (when driving past the store, make a stop to
pick up milk) or a temporal-cue (at 5 pm, take medicine)
(Crystal & George Wilson, 2015; McDaniel & Einstein,
2007; Shum etal., 1999). A recent meta-analysis revealed
a main effect of positive emotion on prospective memory
performance, in that performance improved for positive
cues compared to negative or neutral cues. The enhance-
ment effect occurred when positive cues were used during
both encoding and retrieval. Furthermore, positive emotion
cues additionally enhanced prospective memory for older
adults compared with younger adults (Hostler etal., 2018).
Although research is limited, modulation of the dopa-
mine system has been purported as a mechanism supporting
prospective memory (Costa etal., 2008a) and at least some
forms of associative memory (Lee etal., 2021). For instance,
in Parkinson’s disease patients, who show prospective
memory deficits, receiving an acute dose of levodopa led
to better performance on a time-based prospective memory
task (Costa etal., 2008b). Increased connectivity between
the ventral tegmental area (i.e., the origin of dopaminergic
transmission within the mesocorticolimbic system) and hip-
pocampus lead to enhanced associative memory (Tompary
etal., 2015). Thus, release of dopamine may boost associa-
tive processing and contribute to some of the cognitive con-
sequences of positive affect (Ashby etal., 1999), although
debates remain about the connections between dopaminergic
transmission and positive emotion (Goschke & Bolte, 2014).
These memory patterns are generally consistent with the
broaden-and-build theory of positive emotion (Fredrickson,
1998), which posits that positive emotions during an expe-
rience allow an individual to holistically process an event
and to use the influx of information to identify actions that
can be taken and resources that can be used to respond. As
a result, the recollection of that event is more general and
heuristic. In line with the broaden-and-build theory of posi-
tive emotion, some studies suggest positive emotions allow
individuals to think more flexibly and creatively (Ashby
etal., 1999; Isen etal., 1987; Sacharin, 2009). In this con-
text, the memory results—suggesting that relative to nega-
tive memories, positive memories may retain less specific
detail about any particular feature but may include more
associative connections—would be consistent with the idea
that positive emotions help participants to process informa-
tion more holistically and to draw creative connections.
We have previously proposed that these differences may
arise from how sensory (for negative) versus prefrontal (for
positive) regions are incorporated into emotional memory
networks (Bowen,Kark & Kensinger, 2018). Relative to
negative memories, the encoding and retrieval of positive
information tends to be associated with increased activity
in prefrontal regions, both medial and lateral, and in mid-
line regions including the posterior cingulate and precuneus
(Erk etal., 2003; Ford etal., 2014; Kensinger & Schacter,
2008; Mickley & Kensinger, 2008; Ritchey etal., 2011).
Reliance on prefrontal structures for positive memory may
also explain the benefits to prospective memory, which also
is thought to rely on prefrontal engagement (Burgess etal.,
2011; Volle etal., 2011).
Individuals who have stronger prefrontal-amygdala con-
nectivity also may show a greater tendency to remember
positive experiences. This association has been revealed in
older adults, with greater medial prefrontal-to-amygdala
connectivity corresponding with the degree of a positivity
bias in memory (Sakaki etal., 2013). Among younger adults,
there can be a relationship between amygdala-prefrontal
connectivity and the tendency to remember positive events
(Kark & Kensinger, 2019b). The ability to use neurofeed-
back to increase the strength of this prefrontal-amygdala
connectivity during retrieval of positive memories can even
be linked to remission of symptoms of depression (Young
etal., 2018).
Although fMRI studies cannot speak to the necessity of
these regions for positive memory, two studies using repeti-
tive transcranial magnetic stimulation suggest there may be
causal links between prefrontal engagement and memory
for positive information. In particular, these studies provide
additional support for the argument that retrieval of positive
memories is associated with activity in prefrontal cortex,
having found that stimulating dorsolateral prefrontal cortex
activity during retrieval can improve accuracy and reduce
response times for positive compared to negative memories,
even in subjects with high levels of anxiety (Balconi & Fer-
rari, 2012, 2013). Improved positive memory performance
from increased prefrontal engagement is broadly consistent
with the more heuristic and conceptual memory representa-
tions that individuals seem to retain for these experiences.
A link between positive memory and frontal function also
may be suggested by the fact that positive emotion enhances
prospective memory, and prospective memory is known to
rely on anterior prefrontal engagement (Burgess etal., 2003;
Reynolds etal., 2009).
Although it is speculative at this point, an intriguing pos-
sibility is that positive versus negative memories may be
associated with differences in how amygdala-binding and
hippocampal-binding systems coordinate. While negative
memories may be associated with enhanced amygdala-bind-
ing mechanisms, they also can be associated with reduced
hippocampal-binding (reviewed by Bisby etal., 2020; see
Box3). By contrast, the behavioral data may suggest that
Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
1 3
positive experiences do not create that same opposition.
Perhaps, for positive memories, there is amygdala-binding
and also hippocampal-binding. While the bound contextual
details may be lacking in some resolution due to their pro-
cessing at a more heuristic level, positive memory represen-
tations may be more likely to contain those hippocampal-
bound contextual details as well as the amygdala-bound
emotional salience. This proposal is in many ways in line
with the dissociation proposed by Clewett and Murty (2019),
who suggested that activation of the locus coeruleus-nor-
epinephrine system leads to high memory selectivity while
activation of the dopaminergic-ventral tegmental area (VTA)
system leads to a more integrative memory representation.
They centered this dissociation more on the allocation of
attentional resources and the nature of sensory processing.
But it is possible that, complementary to these effects, are
effects on the balance of binding mechanisms engaged. It
is plausible that VTA projections to both the hippocampus
(Murty & Adcock, 2014) and amygdala (Tang etal., 2020)
enable these binding mechanisms to act synergistically
rather than in opposition (pushing memory representations
toward the balanced-scales example in Box3 rather than
to an amygdala-biased representation). Future work will be
needed to address this possibility.
Valence-related shifts in hippocampal- and amygdala-
binding may help to explain the differential effects of arousal
on positive and negative autobiographical memories. As
discussed previously, positive autobiographical memories
tend to contain more contextual information than negative
memories (Berntsen, 2002; Talarico etal., 2009), leading
to representations that are rated as richer and more vivid
(Talarico etal., 2004). This effect of positive valence is inde-
pendent of emotional arousal (Ford etal., 2012), suggesting
that it may be supported, in part, by associative hippocam-
pal processes. In contrast, the enhancing effect of negative
valence on autobiographical memory has been shown to be
dependent on arousal, only showing links to increased vivid-
ness and specificity for memories rated as highly emotional
(Ford etal., 2012). In other words, the enhancing effects
of autobiographical memory negativity may rely on more
specific amygdala-binding systems that are triggered by
increased arousal.
In addition to affecting the features of a successfully
retrieved event, engagement of hippocampal- versus amyg-
dala-binding systems may have implications for how memo-
ries are used for decision-making. While extensive research
has framed decision-making as reliant on a running average
compiled from past experiences, more recent work has high-
lighted that there are also many instances in which decision-
making is more directly dependent on hippocampal-depend-
ent episodic-memory mechanisms. For instance, Bornstein
etal. (2017) revealed that incidentally reminding people of
specific past decisions could bias their current decisions.
This type of pattern suggests that decision-making is not
relying on an average across past experiences but rather a
sampling of past choices that can be influenced by the mem-
ories that are most accessible at a particular moment. Moreo-
ver, Murty etal. (2016) discovered that individuals could use
past information to adaptively guide current decisions only
when they had associative memory for the value associated
with each item; item memory was insufficient. For example,
it was only when a participant remembered which faces had
been fair or unfair partners in a Dictator game that they were
able to use that information to guide their decisions as to
whom to select as a partner. More recently, FeldmanHall
etal. (2021) connected this ability to adaptively choose part-
ners to a trace signal in the hippocampus. Taken together,
this burgeoning literature has led to new proposals for the
role of the hippocampus in decision-making. Its role may
predominate insituations in which a small number of past
experiences are relevant, and also in cases where individuals
must weigh different pros and cons, requiring an integration
across multiple past experiences (He etal., 2022). In fact,
some have gone so far as to suggest that the hippocampus’
ability to flexibly integrate across events gives it a central
role in decision-making, even in circumstances that may not
seem to have a dominant role for memory (Biderman etal.,
2020), consistent with modern framings of the hippocampus
as being specialized for guiding future behaviors more than
for remembering past experiences (Biderman etal., 2020;
Rubin etal., 2014). If true, then the engagement of the hip-
pocampal-binding system could have important implications
that transcend memory.
Positive Memories Retain Their Aective
Strength andAct asRewards
Positive memories show not only a shallow forgetting curve
for the event but also show a shallow forgetting curve for the
affect of the event. While the affect of negative memories
dissipates over time, the affect of positive memories tends
to remain strong, a phenomenon referred to as the Fading
Affect Bias (FAB). For example, in one study that exam-
ined the trajectory of memories’ affective intensity over a
one-year period (Ritchie etal., 2009), it was found that fad-
ing affect was the most likely trajectory for negative memo-
ries, while fixed affect (i.e., unchanged over time) was the
most likely trajectory for positive memories. Skowronski
and colleagues pointed out that the FAB reflects not only
this tendency for the affect of a positive experience to stay
associated with the memory for a longer period of time than
the affect of a negative experience but also the increased
tendency for a negative event to eventually trigger a more
positive emotion (Skowronski etal., 2014; Walker & Skow-
ronski, 2009). Someone may be devastated at the time of
Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
1 3
a breakup, and only later come to realize that the relation-
ship was not a healthy one. With time, we cannot only come
to appreciate that things were not as bad as they initially
seemed but also to appreciate the silver linings (Ford etal.,
2016; Ford etal., 2021; see Box4 for discussion of how
older adults may be particularly good at this).
Box4. Older adults’ memory for the positive
While the negative can often win out in younger adults’ memo-
ries, older adults are more likely to show a focus on the positive
(reviewed by Mather & Carstensen, 2005; Carstensen & DeLiema,
2018). This effect is often referred to as the age-related “positivity
effect,” and the pattern often is interpreted as arising from age-
related changes in motivations, goals and preferences (Carstensen
etal., 1999). The positivity effect in older adults’ memories has
been observed in a variety of experimental paradigms and for a
wide range of stimulus types. Older adults have better memory for
positive information over negative information in tasks employ-
ing emotional images, word lists, and faces (Reed & Carstensen,
2012), and a meta-analysis revealed that the positivity effect is
larger when cognitive processing is not constrained by the task
instructions and when the age difference between younger and
older adult groups is more extreme (Reed etal., 2014).
It has more recently been demonstrated that not only do older adults
remember proportionally more positive experiences than younger
adults, they also can have an improved ability to focus on the
positive aspects of otherwise-challenging life events. In a series
of studies, Ford and colleagues demonstrated that, as compared to
younger adults, older adults use more positive words to describe
past events, even those that were viewed as quite negative at the
time (Ford etal., 2016). After experiencing the 2013 Boston
Marathon Bombing, older age was associated with an increased
tendency to focus on the good that had come from the event (the
heroism, the city coming together; Ford, DiBiase, & Kensinger,
2018), and 6 months later, older age also was associated with a
decreased tendency to focus on the negative aspects of the event
(Ford, DiBiase, Ryu, & Kensinger, 2018). A similar pattern was
recently shown for reflections on the initial wave of the COVID-
19 pandemic: older age was associated with an increased tendency
to focus on the positive aspects (Ford etal., 2021).
Because the affect associated with positive experi-
ences does not fade quickly, this allows individuals who
recall positive past experiences to relive those pleasant
feelings. Retrieval of positive memories is regularly used
in laboratory experiments to manipulate mood, and mul-
tiple studies have shown its effectiveness in doing so
(Gillihan& Farah, 2005; Siedlecka & Denson, 2019).
For example, after a negative mood induction, partici-
pants are able to use the retrieval of positive memories to
boost their mood, an effect termed the mood-repair effect
(Joormann etal., 2007; Joormann & Siemer, 2004).
There also are broader relations between the retrieval of
positive memories and the increased experience of posi-
tive affect (Joorman etal., 2007) and life satisfaction
(Hendriks etal., 2019).
More recently, it has been suggested that positive memo-
ries can literally be processed as rewards (Speer etal., 2014).
When participants were asked to recall positive and neutral
autobiographical memories, there was increased activity
in corticostriatal circuitry typically associated with reward
processing. Moreover, participants were willing to forego
a small monetary reward in order to have the opportunity
to recall a positive memory. The authors concluded that
through their evocation of positive feelings and their engage-
ment of reward-related regions, the recollection of positive
experiences may be intrinsically valuable to an individual
(Speer etal., 2014).
Speer and Delgado (2017) then went one step further,
testing the hypothesis that positive memories can be used
as a buffer for the effects of negative experiences by com-
paring the stress responses of individuals who recalled a
positive or a neutral memory. Participants first underwent a
Socially Evaluative Cold Pressor task (Schwabe etal., 2008).
They then retrieved either positive or neutral autobiographi-
cal memories. Results were consistent with the buffering
hypothesis of positive memories; individuals who retrieved
positive memories had a smaller cortisol response to the
stressor than did individuals who retrieved neutral memo-
ries, and they also reported less negative affect. Neuroimag-
ing results, which showed increased prefrontal activity and
connectivity among those who recalled positive memories
after stress, led the authors to speculate that positive memo-
ries may serve emotion-regulation functions. In a follow-up
study, Speer and Delgado (2020) showed that recalling posi-
tive memories with a social component could be particu-
larly powerful in reducing the cortisol response following
the same stressor task. These social-positive memories led
to particular increases in activity in reward-related regions,
emphasizing the impact of social engagement on positive
memory recall and suggesting that positive memories that
involve friends or family may provide additional resilience
following stressful experiences.
Potentially related results have come from studies that
looked at how nostalgia—a predominantly positive social
emotion that arises from fond memories of one’s past
(Sedikides etal., 2015)—can create analgesic effects. When
people suffering from chronic pain wrote about an event
that made them feel nostalgic (compared with an ordinary
event that did not evoke such emotion), they reported low-
ered pain levels. Furthermore, college students who did not
suffer from pain disorders were able to tolerate higher levels
of applied pressure (i.e., showed higher pain tolerance) after
writing about a nostalgic event (Kersten etal., 2020). This
analgesic effect of nostalgia was recently confirmed in an
fMRI study that showed participants images of objects or
scenes designed to elicit nostalgic feelings of their childhood
or to remind them of modern life (Zhang etal., 2022). Dur-
ing the viewing of the images that cued memories of child-
hood, participants reported more nostalgia, and when a pain-
ful stimulus followed those images, participants perceived
Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
1 3
it as less painful than when it followed the cues to modern
life. FMRI results revealed that connectivity between the
dorsolateral PFC and periaqueductal gray (a region linked to
pain and analgesia; Linnman etal., 2012; Grahl etal., 2018)
during the viewing of the nostalgic images related to this
diminished perception of pain. Taken together, these studies
suggest the fascinating possibility that retrieval of a posi-
tive memory can have retrograde and anterograde effects,
minimizing the negative impacts of a just-experienced event
(Speer & Delgado, 2017) or an about-to-be experienced
event (Zhang etal., 2022).
Retrieving a positive memory may not only itself serve
as a reward but also influence how patiently people wait for
a future reward (Lempert etal., 2017). When faced with a
choice between smaller, immediate gains and larger long-
term benefits (i.e., intertemporal choices; Strotz, 1956), indi-
viduals who were asked to retrieve positive autobiographical
events (Lempert etal., 2017) or to imagine specific positive
future events (Peters & Buchel, 2010; Benoit etal., 2011)
were more patient, opting more often for long-term benefits
(i.e., reduced temporal discounting). Similar shifts in tem-
poral discounting are not seen when participants are asked
to retrieve negative autobiographical memories (Lempert
etal., 2017), imagine specific negative future events (Liu
etal., 2013), or imagine novel positive scenes related to their
positive memories (Lempert etal., 2017), suggesting that
both positive affect and episodic construction are critical to
these effects. There is further neuroimaging evidence to sug-
gest that not all positive autobiographical memories influ-
ence temporal discounting to the same extent. During posi-
tive memory retrieval, activity in regions associated with
reward processing, such as the striatum, has been linked to
more patient choices (Lempert etal., 2017). This associa-
tion suggests that positive autobiographical memories may
have more power to influence subsequent behavior when
retrieval is more rewarding.
The Power ofPositive Memories
forOurselves andforOur Future
We have already described the ability for positive memories
to serve as rewards (Speer etal., 2014) and to serve impor-
tant mood-enhancement functions (Bryant etal., 2005; Wolf
& Demiray, 2019). Although these literatures have not been
directly connected, it seems plausible that part of the power
of positive memories for mood repair stems from their abil-
ity to act as an in-the-moment reward.
While retrieval of positive memories has the ability to
transiently change how we feel, ongoing research is exam-
ining if the effects of positive memory recall are long-
lasting. There is great interest in this topic across a range
of subfields, with investigations of whether post-trauma
mental-health indicators are tied to the accessibility of
specific positive memories (Contractor etal., 2019) and
whether positive-memory retrieval manipulations can
benefit those with PTSD (Contractor etal., 2018, 2022).
A recent systematic review of interventions conducted
over the last twenty years (Miguel-Alvaro etal., 2021)
described 12 intervention types, across 3 categories: tech-
niques to increase access to and focus on positive memo-
ries; techniques to change qualities or features of positive
memories; and techniques to improve self-esteem or emo-
tion regulation. Specific methods employed included writ-
ing down positive autobiographical memories, describing
the feelings and thoughts associated with a particular posi-
tive memory, and manipulating the vividness of recalled
positive memories through narration to a therapist. Many
interventions resulted in improved positive affect and
reduced symptoms of depression. However, many of these
effects appeared to be transient, and were not maintained
at follow-up. The authors note that most assessments of
these interventions lacked large sample sizes, replica-
tion studies, and longitudinal designs. Thus, future work
is needed to examine the long-term utility of the use of
positive memories.
It might not be too surprising to find that interventions
that focus primarily on retrieving positive memories show
short-term gains rather than longer-term effects. These
interventions are unlikely to change the underlying memory
representations, and instead may act primarily by provid-
ing the in-the-moment reward of the positive memory or
potentially by increasing the accessibility of that positive
memory (or related positive memories) for some period of
time. However, as retrieval contexts shift (in time, in space,
in brain-state), these influences might be expected to dimin-
ish in impact.
For longer-lasting influences to arise, it would seem
essential for the underlying memory representation to be
altered. Samide and Ritchey (2021) recently proposed that
memory processes can be used as an emotion regulation
device, helping to reframe the past and that the efficacy of
these processes for emotion regulation may be tied to the
completeness or strength of the recapitulation of the event
in memory. This could even be one reason for the strong
link between memory specificity and mental wellbeing; a
specific memory has the opportunity to be updated in con-
tent and framing, while a general memory may not. This
perspective also may shed light on the connections between
overgeneral memory and depressive symptomology. An
influential model of overgeneral memory proposes that it
may be, in part, a cognitive avoidance strategy adopted to
reduce negative affect (Williams etal., 2007), and a sys-
tematic review found evidence consistent with the idea that
avoiding the retrieval of specific memories of an aversive
event can reduce distress in the short-term (Sumner, 2012).
Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
1 3
Yet, over the long-term, this avoidance of specific memories
appears to be harmful: Two meta-analyses have suggested
that the presence of overgeneral memories at one time-point
can predict greater depressive symptoms at follow-up (Sum-
ner etal., 2010; Hallford etal., 2021; see also Chiu etal.,
2019). By not retrieving specific memories, individuals may
deprive themselves of opportunities to reframe the experi-
ence and to update the memory.
A recent study suggested that updating an underly-
ing memory representation may be exactly what happens
when, rather than asking people to focus on positive mem-
ories, people are asked to find positive meaning in a past
negative event. Speer etal. (2021) found that participants
who elaborated on the positive aspects of past negative
events reported increased positive emotions and memory
content upon future recollections of the same negative
event, up to two months after the initial recollection. Par-
alleling these behavioral changes, the neural results sug-
gested that the memory representations may have changed
as a result of these reframings. During negative memory
recollection, as memory content increased in positivity,
neural activation patterns in regions associated with epi-
sodic memory retrieval (i.e., hippocampus) and reward-
related processing (i.e., ventral striatum; Speer etal.,
2014) became less similar to baseline activity profiles.
Thus, by finding positive meaning in these past events,
individuals may have changed the memory representations
in ways that had long-term consequences. The authors pro-
posed that the mechanisms may be akin to those engaged
during positive reappraisal, consistent with the similar-
ity between the neural activity engaged during positive
meaning finding and that engaged in previous studies of
positive reappraisal.
While more work is needed, there is reason to suspect that
this type of positive reframing would be particularly pow-
erful in its long-term consequences. In fact, a recent study
found that memory-reframing helped children to remember
a recent tonsillectomy more positively than those assigned
to a control condition (Pavlova etal., 2022). It makes sense
that changing the nature of the memory representation
would have long-term consequences: In an animal model,
artificially triggering a positive memory during the reacti-
vation of a negative experience reversed the animal’s aver-
sive behavior (Ramirez etal., 2015; Redondo etal., 2014),
suggesting that reframing may be able to alter the memory
representation. While this type of direct evidence does not
yet exist, there is correlative evidence that older adults, who
generally enjoy better mental wellbeing than younger adults
even in the face of life stressors, are particularly good at
this type of positive reframing. It is intriguing to consider
whether there may be a causal link—whether part of the
wisdom that is acquired with aging is the ability to posi-
tively reframe past negative experiences, and whether this
tendency to reframe provides older adults with some of their
resiliency (see Box4).
Although we have so far focused on the benefits for
mood, the power of positive memories extends into
broader domains as well. Positive memories become inte-
grally tied to our sense of self and become an important
part of our life story (Berntsen etal., 2011; McAdams,
2001). Our ability to remember positive moments from our
past is related to our self-esteem (Çili & Stopa, 2015). In
this way, positive memories can be connected to our well-
being by allowing us to maintain a positive self-concept.
Positive memories also serve important social functions
(Rasmussen & Berntsen, 2009; Wolf & Demiray, 2019).
We have already described how social context can enhance
the value of memories (Speer & Delgado, 2020), with peo-
ple willing to pay more to reminisce about socially rele-
vant positive memories (a birthday party) rather than posi-
tive events that they experienced alone (receiving a good
grade). Positive memories also can connect us socially;
as Köhler etal. (2015) eloquently state, these memories
constitute “the milestones of social communication” (p.
2). Reminiscing about past experiences can be a powerful
way to improve positive affect (Bryant etal., 2005) and
to solicit social support (Barry etal., 2019), and even is
being explored as a way to boost cognitive function among
older adults or those with dementia (Klever, 2013; Lazar
etal., 2014). Thus, retrieving positive memories is reward-
ing in the moment and, through the social and integrative
functions of reminiscence (Westerhof & Bohlmeijer, 2014)
also can lead to other positive outcomes that can further
potentiate those rewards.
Positive memories can propel us to help others. Chil-
dren perform more good actions after remembering their
past good actions (Tasimi & Young, 2016), and similarly,
when adults remember specific instances when they have
helped others in the past, this increases their prosocial
intentions (Gaesser & Schacter, 2014). It may not even be
necessary for people to remember their own good actions;
specific memories for the good actions of others also may
lead us to help. Ford, Gaesser, DiBiase, etal., (2018)
found that individuals who remembered the details of oth-
ers’ heroism during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings
were more likely to subsequently donate time or money
to Boston-area charities while this helping behavior was
lower in those who remembered fewer details of others’
heroism.
Using fMRI, Gaesser etal. (2019) found evidence that the
way the medial temporal-lobe memory system and theory of
mind networks were engaged related to this link to prosoci-
ality. Interestingly, when TMS was applied to a core node
of the theory of mind network (the right temporal-parietal
junction, RTPJ), there was no effect on the willingness to
help, suggesting that it may be the episodic memory network
Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
1 3
engagement that plays the key role in the association to help-
ing behavior. More work is needed to fully explicate how
the retrieval of positive memories spur us toward prosocial
intentions. But the extant data are exciting in suggesting that
retrieval of positive memories may be beneficial not only to
the rememberer but also to others through their prioritization
of prosocial intentions.
Implications ofthePower ofEmotional
Memories
In this final section, we aim to plant some seeds for future
directions of research that we think could grow from the
literature we have reviewed. In some cases, there is prom-
ising research already underway. In others, to our knowl-
edge, there is not yet much that is known, and so here we
point out possible links for future research to investigate.
The Power ofEmotional Memories
toChange our Moods
We have reviewed the power for positive emotional memo-
ries to be used as emotion regulation devices. Individuals
tend to recall positive memories in order to counteract a
negative mood (Joormann etal., 2007; Joormann & Sie-
mer, 2004). More recent evidence has suggested this abil-
ity for positive memories to serve as emotion-regulation
devices may come from the fact that they can serve as
rewards (Speer etal., 2014), and buffer against the nega-
tive effects of stress (Speer & Delgado, 2017). We briefly
discuss why positive memories, or positively reframed
memories, may be particularly effective emotion regula-
tion devices, and describe contexts in which their efficacy
may be enhanced.
Positive memory retrieval as an emotion regulation
device While there are many other emotion regulation strat-
egies people can use (McRae & Gross, 2020), there may be
specific benefits conveyed by the use of positive memories.
For one, the use of positive memories to change one’s mood
may require less training than other emotion regulation strat-
egies. While individuals often have to practice extensively
to become good at reframing and reappraising experiences,
autobiographical memory retrieval is a common part of daily
experience. Second, the use of positive memories may be
implementable across a wider range of scenarios, including
instances where the emotion is not elicited by any specific
situation that can be reframed or instances in which it is a
mood rather than a short-lived emotional reaction that must
be regulated.
Episodic specificity inductions to enhance negative memory
reframing It is not just positive memories that can pro-
vide positive impacts to our mental wellbeing. Negative
memories can as well if we are able to reframe them so
as to find the good that has come from them (Samide &
Ritchey, 2021). In fact, reframing negative memories may
be a particularly powerful way to boost our mental health, in
long-lasting ways. As we described earlier, a barrier to such
reframing may be if memories are retrieved in an overgen-
eral and semanticized way, rather than as an episodically rich
memory. If true, then training individuals in how to retrieve
specific memories may be advantageous.
Memory specificity training (Madore & Schacter,
2014; Raes etal., 2009), based on the cognitive interview
(Geiselman etal., 1985), encourages individuals to thor-
oughly retrieve details of an event, using a guided process
to enhance the retrieval of episodic details. There is promis-
ing work showing that specificity inductions can be linked
to reductions in symptoms of PTSD (Moradi etal., 2014),
depression (Neshat-Doost etal., 2013; Raes etal., 2009), and
complicated grief (Maccallum & Bryant, 2011). It also may
boost positive affect and decrease negative affect in healthy
college students (Jing etal., 2016). Some of these benefits
have been linked to the concept of episodic reappraisal (Jing
etal., 2016) or the ability to reframe a negative experience
that one is remembering or imagining.
Power of reminiscence for grief Autobiographical memory
retrieval can be powerful for individuals who are grieving
(Mroz & Bluck, 2019). Whether those memories are pow-
erful in harming or helping depends on the way people use
their memories. Wolf etal. (2021) revealed that after the
loss of a loved one, individuals benefited from recalling
autobiographical memories if they did so in ways that have
been described as “self-positive” (Cappeliez & O’Rourke,
2006) – using memories to maintain identity, to problem-
solve, and to prepare for one’s own death. They suggested
that when used this way, past memories may help individu-
als to reframe their identity and their future without their
loved one. To our knowledge, there have not been interven-
tions focused on helping individuals to use their memories
in these self-positive ways, but there may be promise for
doing so as a way to help those who are grieving a loss.
The Power ofEmotional Memories
intheClassroom
Educational psychology has been deeply influenced by
research on executive functioning and cognitive control
(Diamond & Lee, 2011). Yet the long-term memory lit-
erature has had relatively fewer intersections with the way
Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
1 3
classroom education is approached (Ofen, Yu, & Chen,
2016). There have been recent attempts to bridge this divide
(Fandakova & Bunge, 2016), but to our knowledge there
has been little discussion of how the literature on episodic
emotional memories may be relevant to the classroom. We
suggest the importance of considering two directions of
connections.
Emotional material may benefit from different study tech-
niques Students do not just learn about neutral content in
the classroom. They read fiction and nonfiction written to
trigger positive and negative emotional reactions, discuss
current events that are emotionally charged, and study about
diseases and treatments that may directly affect loved ones.
The advice given for how to effectively study this informa-
tion is almost entirely based on laboratory research using
nonemotional stimuli.
There is reason to think that many of the effective-study
principles developed through examination of memory
for neutral content will extend to emotional content. For
instance, high-quality sleep has been shown to benefit mem-
ory for emotional content at least as much as nonemotional
content (Payne & Kensinger, 2018). But what about spaced
rehearsal? Or emphasizing quizzing over re-studying? What
about taking notes in visual form versus written or in ways
that emphasize associations among concepts? Few of these
study principles have been examined for emotional content.
To the extent that the emotional enhancement of memory is
reliant on similar processes as engaged for neutral material
(mediation model), the benefits should remain similar. But it
seems plausible that where the mechanisms begin to diverge,
so might the most effective study strategies. For instance,
in contrast to the robust “testing effect” advantage con-
veyed for neutral content, there have been mixed results for
negative content, and some suggestion that rather than the
broad benefits conveyed for nonemotional content, retrieval
practice may benefit memory for associations with negative
content (Jia etal., 2018) but not memory for the negative
items themselves (Jia etal., 2019). It seems possible that the
different patterns of accessibility for negative versus neu-
tral memories may contribute to this disconnect: If nega-
tive content is associated with a prioritized search process,
this may mean that its retrieval conveys fewer benefits when
compared to the more-effortful search process engaged for
neutral information. It also is plausible that retrieval practice
primarily engages content linked to hippocampal-binding
mechanisms and may be less efficacious for content linked
to amygdala-binding mechanisms.
Emotional memories and new learning We have already
described the power for emotional memories to at least tran-
siently change our affective state. Classroom assignments
are often designed to evoke these memories: In elementary
school, children might be asked to write about a favorite
experience or to consider when they have felt similarly to
a protagonist. In high school and college, students may be
encouraged to write about life experiences to gain facility
in writing, or to connect their life experiences to material
being presented. When this memory retrieval happens in
the classroom, there are likely to be consequences for the
processing of incoming information.
If emotional memories are changing individuals’ moods,
this can then impact how they are processing incoming
information. Individuals in a negative mood may attend to
details and may process information in a more narrow, ana-
lytic fashion than people in positive or neutral moods (Clore
etal., 2001). By contrast, participants in a positive mood
are more likely to process information in a broader manner,
focusing on the gist or global theme of the information, and
often seeing creative connections among stimuli that oth-
ers miss (Clore etal., 2001; Fredrickson, 2004). There is
some work focused on customizing learning material based
on real-time automated evaluations of students’ emotional
states (Shen etal., 2009), although much of it has focused
on students’ experiences of confusion, and so there remains
much to be investigated.
In the classroom, it seems plausible that retrieval of emo-
tional memories could be leveraged to encourage the relevant
modes of information-processing. A student might be asked
to think about a positive memory before engaging in a task
requiring creative associations to be drawn. If positive memo-
ries can buffer from stress in educational contexts as they can
in laboratory ones, there could be benefits to asking students
to take a moment to retrieve a positive memory before handing
out a pop-quiz or asking a student to read in front of the class.
The Power ofEmotional Memories
withinDigital Contexts
Memory theories are increasingly recognizing the role of
fluctuating internal as well as external contexts in guiding
retrieval outputs, and how emotional state interacts with
these retrieval outputs (e.g., eCMR model). It has long been
considered how the encoding-to-retrieval match in physical
environments affects learning (Abernethy, 1940; Godden &
Baddeley, 1975). With the advent of digital contexts, and
their pervasive use during the COVID-19 pandemic, indi-
viduals may now be able to decide “where” they study or
work—what virtual background or environment they use,
and for what situations they use it.
There would be good reason to think that consistency of
digital contexts across study and retrieval episodes would
benefit memory. Indeed, Cox etal. (2021) found when events
occurred in the same contexts, retrieval performance for
Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
1 3
those events was better compared with retrieval of events
presented in different contexts. Thus, returning to the same
“virtual boardroom” may help an individual to recall ideas
previously discussed in that virtual context.
There is a potential downside, which relates to the sim-
plicity of the digital contexts. The use of a virtual back-
ground for a video call is quite similar to the juxtaposition
of a facial expression upon an unrelated scene. What hap-
pens if that face is of your boss who is critiquing your latest
presentation? Will the negative affect from that interaction
“bleed” onto the background, as can happen in laboratory
settings (Palombo etal., 2021; Madan & Kensinger, 2021)?
These may be important questions to address, so that indi-
viduals can understand when continuity of digital context
is helpful because the context-match from one meeting to
another allows for increased content recollection, and when
the possible downsides of “affective bleed” predominate.
Another consideration for digital workspaces is
whether staying within the same digital “space” may
affect our ability to create event boundaries. Event seg-
mentation theory argues that humans proscribe bounda-
ries to life events to organize and optimize the moun-
tain of information we encounter in everyday life (Kurby
& Zacks, 2008; Zacks & Swallow, 2007). Importantly,
event boundaries are thought to help protect emotional
memories from interference, allowing important emo-
tional memories to be protected and prioritized (Dun-
smoor etal., 2018). Events are traditionally defined as a
period of time at a specific location that has a beginning
and an end (Kurby & Zacks, 2008). Studies in real world
settings show memory for items is improved when they
were presented across events instead of within events
(Pettijohn etal., 2016; Smith, 1982; Smith & Rothkopf,
1984). Curious if spatial location plays the same role in
a digital context, a recent study used virtual reality to
systematically identify if spatial boundaries are necessary
to improve memory performance (Logie & Donaldson,
2021). In a series of four experiments, researchers showed
that removing spatial boundaries, including doorways,
walls, and separate rooms from a virtual reality space did
not negatively affect free recall memory performance. The
authors found spatial events are not necessary to create
boundaries and that temporal boundaries were sufficient
to provide memory enhancements (Logie & Donaldson,
2021). Thus, learning or working within a digital space
that does not involve changes in physical location (e.g., a
student who attends different classes throughout the day
sitting in the same place on the same computer) may still
leverage event boundaries toward memory success in the
same way as when we are interacting with physical envi-
ronments. More needs to be done to examine whether this
holds for emotional content being remembered.
The implications can extend beyond work, as digital
spaces are increasingly being used for social connection
purposes as well. In what ways do memories of a birthday
party or memorial service differ when experienced online
versus in person? How do any differences influence the
power of those memories?
Shifting theBalance ofHippocampal
andAmygdala Binding Systems
In this review, we described how the hippocampus and
amygdala may subserve different binding functions
(Yonelinas & Ritchey, 2015) and may not always work
synergistically (Bisby & Burgess, 2017). If indeed there
can be shifts in the balance between the relative engage-
ment of hippocampal and amygdala binding systems, this
raises the question of whether there may be manipulations
that can strategically shift these weights. Are there inter-
ventions that could increase the likelihood of remembering
contextual details of high-arousal, negative experiences,
by boosting the reliance on the hippocampal-binding sys-
tem? Given that disruption of hippocampal mechanisms
and the ability to remember specific, contextual details has
been associated with depression (Belleau etal., 2019) and
PTSD (Shin, 2006), this would seem an important question
to examine. To our knowledge, there is no direct evidence
to address this question, but we note two potentially prom-
ising directions for future research.
Neurofeedback It remains unclear how the balance of hip-
pocampal and amygdala binding systems is determined.
There is beginning to be promising evidence that neuro-
feedback can be used to downregulate amygdala activity
(Brühl etal., 2014) and to enhance emotion regulation (see
Linhartová etal., 2019 for review). For instance, Herwig
etal. (2019) provided participants with neurofeedback of
their own amygdala activity while they were instructed to
use cognitive reappraisal. Over four weekly sessions, they
noted significant reductions in amygdala activity. Interest-
ingly, amygdala connectivity with the hippocampus also
increased. They did not examine memory for the pictorial
stimuli presented during the neurofeedback session, but this
pattern raises the question of whether methods like this may
be useful for achieving a greater balance between hippocam-
pal and amygdala binding systems.
Aerobic exercise Extensive prior research has demonstrated
that aerobic exercise is good for hippocampal function
(Erickson etal., 2011) and may encourage cell growth in
the hippocampus (Luo etal., 2019). Less is known about
how exercise affects the amygdala. To date, most research
has focused on the effect of exercise on emotion regulation,
Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
1 3
showing that exercise can boost prefrontal function (Ligeza
etal., 2021) and can increase connectivity between the pre-
frontal cortex and amygdala in ways that have been inter-
preted as indicative of improved emotion regulation (Ge
etal., 2021). If exercise is indeed increasing hippocampal
function while decreasing amygdala engagement, it may
create an intriguing scenario in which an emotional expe-
rience is remembered primarily with hippocampal-binding
mechanisms engaged. To our knowledge, no work has exam-
ined whether participation in aerobic exercise programs or
individual differences in aerobic fitness affect the types of
details remembered about an emotional experience. Instead,
the bulk of work has looked at how acute bursts of exercise
around the time of learning or consolidation affect overall
memory ability (Loprinzi etal., 2019 for review) or emo-
tional memory ability specifically (Libkuman etal., 1999;
Wade & Loprinzi, 2018). For example, future work could
examine how exercise interventions affect associative as well
as item memory for negative content.
Conclusions
Our memories are a powerful tool with which we navigate
our lives; we use our memories to remind us of our past,
to make sense of our present, and to direct our future. The
current review has highlighted the ways in which emotional
valence enhances this power. Positive and negative emotion
can make memories easier to retrieve, more richly reexperi-
enced, and more likely to influence behavior. These changes
are supported by a variety of mechanisms that guide how
events are encoded, consolidated, retrieved, and altered over
time. We argue it is important for the field of emotional
memory to 1) gain a firm understanding of the similarities
and differences between the characteristics and uses of nega-
tive and positive memories, 2) the mechanisms that support
these differences, and 3) their implications in clinical, edu-
cational, and professional domains.
Funding The ideas presented in this review were formulated in part
during the conduct of research funded by the National Science Founda-
tion (grant BCS-1823795) and were aided by discussions catalyzed by a
gift from the Boston College class of 1991 for research on learning and
memory conducted to improve the educational experience for students
with memory challenges.
Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attri-
bution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adapta-
tion, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long
as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source,
provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes
were made. The images or other third party material in this article are
included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated
otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in
the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not
permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will
need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a
copy of this licence, visit http:// creat iveco mmons. org/ licen ses/ by/4. 0/.
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