How Negative Emotion Enhances the Visual Specificity of a Memory
Elizabeth A. Kensinger, Rachel J. Garoff-Eaton and Daniel L. Schacter
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 19, 1872-1887
Background: Some studies have suggested that emotion primarily increases memory for "gist," and does not enhance memory for detail. There are, however, some instances in which negative objects (e.g., snake, grenade) are remembered with more visual detail than neutral objects (e.g., barometer, blender).
Methods: In the present functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, we examined the encoding processes that lead a person to remember the exact visual details of negative and neutral objects, and to remember which of two decisions were made about the objects (a size decision or an animacy decision).
Results: The enhancement in memory for a negative item's visual details appeared to result from enhanced visual processing: The right fusiform gyrus, a region known to be critical for processing exemplar-specific details, showed a greater extent and magnitude of activity during the successful encoding of negative objects. Activity in the right amygdala also corresponded with memory for visual detail, although it did not relate to memory for the task performed with the item.
Conclusions: These data provide strong evidence that engagement of some amygdalar regions can correspond with enhanced memory for certain types of details, but does not ensure successful encoding of all contextual details.