Differential effects of arousal in positive and negative autobiographical memories

Memory. 2012;20(7):771-8. doi: 10.1080/09658211.2012.704049. Epub 2012 Aug 9.


Autobiographical memories are characterised by a range of emotions and emotional reactions. Recent research has demonstrated that differences in emotional valence (positive vs. negative emotion) and arousal (the degree of emotional intensity) differentially influence the retrieved memory narrative. Although the mnemonic effects of valence and arousal have both been heavily studied, it is currently unclear whether the effects of emotional arousal are equivalent for positive and negative autobiographical events. In the current study, multilevel models were used to examine differential effects of emotional valence and arousal on the richness of autobiographical memory retrieval both between and within subjects. Thirty-four young adults were asked to retrieve personal autobiographical memories associated with popular musical cues and to rate the valence, arousal and richness of these events. The multilevel analyses identified independent influences of valence and intensity upon retrieval characteristics at the within- and between-subject levels. In addition, the within-subject interactions between valence and arousal highlighted differential effects of arousal for positive and negative memories. These findings have important implications for future studies of emotion and memory, highlighting the importance of considering both valence and arousal when examining the role emotion plays in the richness of memory representation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Affect / physiology
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Music
  • Young Adult