Emotional Arousal and Memory Binding: An Object-Based Framework

Perspect Psychol Sci. 2007 Mar;2(1):33-52. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-6916.2007.00028.x.


Binding various features of an event together and maintaining these connections in memory is an essential component of episodic memories. Previous theories make contradictory predictions about the effects of emotional arousal on memory binding. In this article, I review evidence for both arousal-impaired and arousal-enhanced memory binding and explain these contradictory findings using an object-based framework. According to this framework, emotionally arousing objects attract attention that enhances binding of their constituent features. In contrast, the emotional arousal associated with one object either impairs or has no effect on the associations between that object and other distinct objects or background contextual information. After initial encoding, the attention-grabbing nature of emotionally arousing objects can lead to interference in working memory, making it more difficult to maintain other bound representations. These contrasting effects of arousal on memory binding should help predict which aspects of emotional memories are likely to be accurate and which aspects are likely to be misremembered.