Role of Emotion in Memory


Flashbulb memories

One way in which memory is improved is in flashbulb memories.

  • They are a special kind of memory as they are long lasting and represent highly important and dramatic events. 
  • They differ from ordinary memories as they involve enduring imprints surrounding an important incident e,g the death of Princess Diana. 
  • It's as though the mind as taken a picture of the circumsatnces surrounding the events
  • People can clearly remember the context in which they first heard the news, like where they were, what they were doing and the people they were with. 
  • It is the emotional arousal at the moment the news of the event is registered that makes FBM's special. 
  • Has been suggested that memories are special because there is a specific mechanisim in the brain that is activated at times of great emotional arousal. 
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Conway (1994)

Looked at the reactions to the resignition of Margaret Thatcher. 

Found that the UK had more detailed and consistent memories compared to other countries.

This supports FBM because it was shown that when an event has a distinctive meaning, it will be more memorable. 

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Sheingold (1982)

Simlarily to Conway...

Asked participants about person memories, like the birth of a sibling, and found consistent accounts. 

This supports the theory of flashbulb memories because the memories were not fogotten overtime, persumably due to the emotional arousal the memory created. 

We have no way of checking the accuracy of these recollections and so we do not have reliable evidence that flashbulb memories exist. 

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Brown and Kulik

Found that white people had a greater recall for events concerning white people, and the same was true for black people. 

This supports the view that people have FBM for events that are of personal consequence presumably because they are more emotionally important.

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Repression, as proposed by Freud, is the opposite of FBM.

It's a method by which the ego protects itself from emotional conflict.

A repressed memory is the memory of a traumatic event that is placed beyond conscious awareness which goes into the unconscious mind.

We repress these traumatic memories as Freud believes that some memories are anxiety causing and cue too psychologically painful to be remembered.

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Supporting Freud

Levinger and Clark (1961)- found that participants took longer to react to negative, emotionally charged words, supporting Freuds thoery that uncomfortable memories are repressed.

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Research was lab based and so is not true to real life as the emotionally charged words are not as upsetting as real life events would be.

Simliarily Karon (1997) found that WW2 vtererans who had experienced battlefield trauma  had repressed these memories. The result was many years of mental illness finally allevated when the traumas were remembered in therapy. This research was therefore unethical as it meant that participants had to go through the pain of remembering the repressed memory.

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Scientific evidence?

We have little scientific evidence to suggest that there is a repression mechanism that happens unconsciously as a defence against traumatic memories because we don't know if there is a particular part of the brain which creates this effect.

However, it is possible that people may intentionally block out a particular experience.

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It is difficult to conduct research on repression as repressed memories are hard to retrieve.

This is because it would be unethical to create the kind of traumatic memories needed for repression as participants could come into harm when thinking of the traumatic memories.

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Anxiety also affects memory and recall, particularily to witnesses to a crime.

Researchers have looked at the relationship between anxiety and Eye Witness Testimony (EWT)

Deffenbacher (2004)- found considerable support for the hypothesis that high levels of stress negatively impact on the accuracy of EWT.

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Anxiety- contradictary evidence

Some studies suggest that emotional arousal may enhance the accuracy of EWT...

Christianson (1993)- questioned 58 witnesses to a bank robbery who had been threatened and found they were more accurate in their recall.

This was true 15 months later.

These contradictory findings can be explained by Yerkes-Dobinson law which explains that performance improves with increases in arousal up to some optimal point and then it declines with further increases.

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Weapon Focus

There is evidence that in a violent crime, arousal may focus the witness on more central details, such as a weapon; this is called weapon focus.

Loftus suggested that weapon focus occures because the weapon focuses the attention away from the offenders face.

She demonstrated this when she showed participants a video of a man pointing a gun at a cashier and found that details of the offenders face were poor and participants could not identify the man from a set of photo's.

However, this study involved wtahcing a video which is unlike real life (low ecological validty)

Steblay (1992)- supported this by showing the presence of a weapon does indeed reduce the chances of a witness correctly identifying the person holding it.

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