Memories! Part two...

Finishing up some thoughts on memory retrieval and perspective!

Mood and Memory Retrieval

It’s not just at the encoding stage that memories can be impacted by our mood and feelings. There’s also a link between mood and memory retrieval. To put it simply, when we’re happy, we are more likely to remember happy memories, and the same applies to other emotions and matching memories. That's why if you're feeling particularly down, you might disregard all of the happy memories with friends, and instead remember the times went you felt lonely and were in arguments with your friend group.

This occurrence is called mood-state dependent memory. It’s a significant finding because it means that two entirely different aspects of memory are both linked to emotion. We not only encode memories according to our emotions and feelings, but we also retrieve them that way as well.

Emotions & Forgetting

Although we might not completely forget memories that we find unpleasant or bad for some reason, there is a widespread belief that our minds can repress them. This doesn’t mean that the memories disappear or go away, but it does mean that they are avoided by the brain.

This idea goes back to Sigmund Freud and his work researching people’s emotions and how they relate to memories. Traumatic events and experiences are often pushed down and repressed, even if they can never be entirely forgotten.

Fading Affect Bias

The further away we get from an event, the positively we’re likely to view it and recall it. This is called the fading affect bias and it amounts to looking at things with a sunkissed tint over our memories. People often ignore bad memories and focus on the positives. This might be a coping mechanism or a way to put our experiences into a narrativized context as time passes.

A 2004 study found that older participants were more likely to recall positive memories from their past and less likely to bring forward negative ones. So, as we get older, our perception of the past (even things that we might have hated in the moment) can absolutely change.

In Summary

It’s clear that our memories are massively impacted by our feelings and perceptions, and that impact manifests itself in many different ways. How we feel about an event will change how it’s remembered and how we recall it in the future; and, our feelings about that event can change--sometimes compounded: what we feel is a 10 out of 10 in a happy moment, might be re-assessed to be a 7, when a true 10 event happens.

What's important to remember is that our memory is truly impacted not just by the event, but by perspective.


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© 2020 by Dr. Brandon Barile

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