Consistency of memory for emotionally arousing events: a review of prospective and experimental studies

Clin Psychol Rev. 2005 Nov;25(7):935-53. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2005.04.011.


Although emotionally arousing events are more memorable than ordinary daily life events, the nature of memories for emotionally arousing events is widely debated. On the one hand, researchers consider memories for highly emotional events as malleable and subject to distortion, while on the other hand these memories are perceived as both indelible and consistent over the lifetime. Up till now, a systematic comparison of research findings on consistency of memory for emotional events is lacking. This paper is the first effort to summarize available studies on consistency of memory for emotionally arousing events and to address methodological limitations and suggestions for future research as well. In general, findings show that quality of the selected studies is sufficient to good, with studies with victims of assault and studies on war-exposure reaching higher quality scores than studies on flashbulb memories and experimental memory studies. Victims of assault or war-exposure tend to amplify their memories for the event, while results from flashbulb memory research and experimental research suggest that memory for emotional events is either stable or diminishes over time.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arousal*
  • Combat Disorders / diagnosis
  • Combat Disorders / psychology
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Memory*
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Psychological
  • Personality Inventory
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Research Design / standards
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires