Memories are more about perception than historical data... huh?!

In a two-part blog, let's unpack how your memory works and how feelings impact what "truly" happened--or at least, how you remember it!

Just like in Inside Out, memories aren't just data points safely tucked away on a shelf or in a book for later recall. Continuing with this book metaphor, I'm not saying your memories are fiction, but they can be memories retold by unreliable narrators. How so? Your feelings about and your perceptions of events will impact your memory, and that's why people can often recall the same event with two separate perceptions of what happened.

More and more studies are showing a clear link between memory and emotions. In a two part blog, let's unpack how your memory works and how feelings impact what "truly" happened--or at least, how you remember it!

The Impact of Emotions on Memory

There are various stages of remembering and encoding information in the brain, and emotions have an impact on some of those stages. Emotionally charged events and experience make for longer lasting memories after the fact. There are plenty of studies and research out there, and, of course and most importantly, a Disney film that demonstrated that point! It might have been a kid's film, but it was really based on science.

We all remember things more clearly when they had some emotional meaning attached to them. And on the flipside, we don’t remember things that were mundane and that we had no strong emotional reaction to in the moment. For example, you might not remember what you watched on TV last Tuesday becomes it’s just a mundane everyday detail. But if you were laughing about a joke on a show with your family, that moment might stick...

The Mood Congruence Effect

However, research also shows that the impact of emotion on memory is more profound than simply remembering more easily emotive subjects than dull, everyday ones. It’s also linked to recall. So the emotions you felt when experiencing something will decide whether those memories will be easily recalled in the brain after they become memories. Huh?

The mood your in during an incident in addition to the feeling you have about an incident/event can make that memory more powerful, and particularly more easily recalled in the future The mood you were in at the time connected with the emotion you felt about the event will decide how clearly you recall the event in the future. One study by Gordon Bower in 1981 found that if someone saw something sad and they were already in a sad kind of mood, the memory created would be more easily accessible to them in the future. This was named the mood congruence effect.

😡 mood + Angry 😤 event= more easily accessible memory


Neuroscience is cool. Yup, I said it.

The hippocampus and amygdala regions of the brain are both key to processing emotions and memories. The hippocampus might be responsible for storing the event, but the amygdala encodes/colors the memory with feelings and emotion. For example, if you have a moment of anxiety, you might try to recall other anxious moments. If you were anxious at the first day of your new job, that memory might come back to help inform you in the current event (how did you deal with that, how did it turn out, what can you learn from the memory?). However, if you weren't anxious (maybe you knew everyone or you had worked for that company before), that memory might not be applicable to the current event you're facing.

What's next?

How are memories recalled? Does gender play a role? You'll just have to remember to check out the blog next week... 😂 😂 😂


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© 2020 by Dr. Brandon Barile

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