A fundamental idea in memory research is that items are more likely to be remembered if encoded with a semantic, rather than perceptual, processing strategy. Interestingly, this effect has been shown to reverse for emotionally arousing materials, such that perceptual processing enhances memory for emotional information or events. The current fMRI study investigated the neural mechanisms of this effect by testing how neural activations during emotional memory retrieval are influenced by the prior encoding strategy. Participants incidentally encoded emotional and neutral pictures under instructions to attend to either semantic or perceptual properties of each picture. Recognition memory was tested 2 days later. fMRI analyses yielded three main findings. First, right amygdalar activity associated with emotional memory strength was enhanced by prior perceptual processing. Second, prior perceptual processing of emotional pictures produced a stronger effect on recollection- than familiarity-related activations in the right amygdala and left hippocampus. Finally, prior perceptual processing enhanced amygdalar connectivity with regions strongly associated with retrieval success, including hippocampal/parahippocampal regions, visual cortex, and ventral parietal cortex. Taken together, the results specify how encoding orientations yield alterations in brain systems that retrieve emotional memories.
Keywords: Amygdala; Emotion; Memory; fMRI.
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