Sustained experience of emotion after loss of memory in patients with amnesia

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Apr 27;107(17):7674-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0914054107. Epub 2010 Apr 12.


Can the experience of an emotion persist once the memory for what induced the emotion has been forgotten? We capitalized on a rare opportunity to study this question directly using a select group of patients with severe amnesia following circumscribed bilateral damage to the hippocampus. The amnesic patients underwent a sadness induction procedure (using affectively-laden film clips) to ascertain whether their experience of sadness would persist beyond their memory for the sadness-inducing films. The experiment showed that the patients continued to experience elevated levels of sadness well beyond the point in time at which they had lost factual memory for the film clips. A second experiment using a happiness induction procedure yielded similar results, suggesting that both positive and negative emotional experiences can persist independent of explicit memory for the inducing event. These findings provide direct evidence that a feeling of emotion can endure beyond the conscious recollection for the events that initially triggered the emotion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amnesia / psychology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / injuries*
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Photic Stimulation