Shock and Awe Memory Enhancement

Brain processes both negative and positive emotions which enhance memory abilities

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Bridgid Finn, PhD, postdoctoral researcher in psychology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL) reports that learning is enhanced by negative emotion, not diminished by that negative emotion. Memory is reactive and dynamic, not stagnant requiring only neutral or positive emotions to enhance memory. Retrieval of a memory still engages one in processing information.

Finn offers an example of having a picture memory of a gun pointed at one just after taking the SAT, for example, probably isn’t the best situation for stored memory as there is an intricate relationship between areas involved in emotion and memory. He reports that In the amygdala and the hippocampus, negative pictures are stored and may enhance later retention.

The researchers tested 40 undergraduate WUSTL students who studied ten lists of ten pairs of Swahili-English vocabulary words. Participants were given a cued recall test after studying each set of ten pairs, and afterwards given a final test on all 100 pairs.

On the initial test, following each correct answer.Three categories were shown; a picture of either of a negative emotional image, a neutral emotional or an image of a blank screen.

Then their mental palette was cleansed with a one-minute "sorbet" multiplication test.

Participants did tested best on items that were followed by negative pictures. This first experiment showed that item retrieval process does not end upon item retrieval.

 A second experiment designed to explore the limits of the enhancement effect, looked at second group of students who viewed the images two seconds beyond successful retrieval. The question: Does this same retrieval process persist over the longer period of time of  two seconds?

Finn reports a resounding yes to the question.“The answer appears to be yes, the students continue to process of information gathering during this short pause.

A third study was intended to explain the possibility that it is arousing images assciated with provocative words that appear to enhance memory collection. This experiment was very similar to the other two with different, study enhancing criteria: Participants restudied the items.

Finn observes that positive don't necessarily appear to be stored as successfuly in the brain as negative content. 

The researchers believe that their results mark the first step in understanding the kinds of things that might be beneficial to enhance memory after retrieval.

Finn concludes in saying that establishment of a period after retrieval is key in information retainment. He want to build on this initial finding and build upon it. Researchers want to observe which  manipulations can possibly be introduced to enhance the post-retrieval phase of memory retention.


Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 18, 2011
Last Updated:
June 18, 2011