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The emotional carryover effect in memory for words

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Emotional material rarely occurs in isolation; rather it is experienced in the spatial and temporal proximity of less emotional items. Some previous researchers have found that emotional stimuli impair memory for surrounding information, whereas others have reported evidence for memory facilitation. Researchers have not determined which types of emotional items or memory tests produce effects that carry over to surrounding items. Six experiments are reported that measured carryover from emotional words varying in arousal to temporally adjacent neutral words. Taboo, non-taboo emotional, and neutral words were compared using different stimulus onset asynchronies (SOAs), recognition and recall tests, and intentional and incidental memory instructions. Strong emotional memory effects were obtained in all six experiments. However, emotional items influenced memory for temporally adjacent words under limited conditions. Words following taboo words were more poorly remembered than words following neutral words when relatively short SOAs were employed. Words preceding taboo words were affected only when recall tests and relatively short retention intervals were used. These results suggest that increased attention to the emotional items sometimes produces emotional carryover effects; however, retrieval processes also contribute to retrograde amnesia and may extend the conditions under which anterograde amnesia is observed.
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Keywords: Arousal; Distinctiveness; Emotion; Memory; Recognition

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Psychology Department, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN, USA

Publication date: August 8, 2016

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