Effect of emotion on memory for words and their context

J Comp Neurol. 2016 Jun 1;524(8):1636-45. doi: 10.1002/cne.23928. Epub 2015 Nov 27.


Emotion influences various cognitive processes, such as memory. This beneficial or detrimental effect can be studied with verbal material, yet in this case a broad term of context has to be taken into account. The present work reviews recent literature and proposes that traditional differentiation between semantic and environmental context should be replaced with a novel conceptualization of hippocampus-dependent relational memory and item memory (related to the activations of cuneus and left amygdala). Additionally, instead of list-learning paradigms, words should be memorized in the context of sentences or stories for better control over their meaning. The recent evidence suggests that of particular importance for ecological validity in research paradigms is the presence of communicative and social context of verbal material related to such processes as theory of mind and brain activations in temporoparietal junction, posterior cingulate cortex, and dorsal medial prefrontal cortex. We propose that studying memory of verbal material within context gives a better understanding of enhancing and impairing effects of emotion as well as of the underlying brain mechanisms.

Keywords: affective dimensions; basic emotions; communicative context; context; emotion; integrative associative memory; relational memory; sentences; social relevance; unitization; verbal episodic memory; words.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Semantics*