What is it about?

When reminiscing about the past, we use memory for the temporal order of event elements to weave together a cohesive event narrative that unfolds sequentially. This aspect of memory performance may be influenced by the emotions experienced during the formation of the events. Yet, the literature has produced mixed results as to whether emotion improves or impairs temporal-order memory. Hence, in this study, which focused on negative emotions, we sought to explore how emotion affects our ability to reconstruct the elements of an event in the correct temporal order. To better mirror the dynamic and complex nature of unfolding events that we experience in everyday life, we employed naturalistic stimuli: We edited selected clips from the movie Pihu (Screwvala et al., 2018) to create a high- and low-emotion condition. After watching either the high- or low-emotion video clips, participants were asked to describe in detail what they remembered from the video (“free recall task”) as well as recollect and arrange into the correct temporal order still images from the clips (“temporal-order task”). We found that participants who viewed the high-emotion video were better at reconstructing the timeline of the still images in the temporal-order task. Yet, when describing their memory for the video in the free recall task (i.e, with no instruction to consider order) there was no difference in temporal-order accuracy between the two conditions.

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Why is it important?

Understanding how emotion might influence our ability to accurately recall the order of events is crucial, as many - if not most - of life’s important moments are colored by emotion. How negative emotion in particular might inform temporal-order memory could hold important implications for eyewitness testimony, as the accuracy of temporal order can be a crucial component of understanding what happened during a crime. Our work suggests that emotion plays an important role in our ability to reconstruct the unfolding of past events.

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This page is a summary of: Negative emotion enhances memory for the sequential unfolding of a naturalistic experience., Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, April 2022, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/mac0000015.
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