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Selective effects of emotion on the phenomenal characteristics of autobiographical memories

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The present study investigates the emotional determinants of the phenomenal characteristics of autobiographical memories. A total of 84 participants completed the Memory Characteristics Questionnaire (MCQ, Johnson, Foley, Suengas, & Raye, 1988) after retrieving and orally describing a negative, a positive, and a neutral autobiographical memory. In addition, self-report and physiological measures of emotional state at retrieval were recorded. Results suggest that recall of perceptual, sensory, and semantic elements is better for emotional memories than for neutral ones. This difference is not significant for contextual and temporal aspects, suggesting that emotional memories are more vivid but no more specific than are neutral ones. In addition, positive memories yielded higher MCQ ratings than did negative memories for sensory, temporal, and contextual aspects. Finally, correlations suggest a positive relation between emotional state at retrieval and level of phenomenal detail of retrieved memories. Results are interpreted in terms of multilevel models of emotion and of Conway and Pleydell-Pearce's (2000) model.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Louvain, Belgium

Publication date: February 1, 2005

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