Strategic encoding and enhanced memory for positive value-location associations

Mem Cognit. 2020 Aug;48(6):1015-1031. doi: 10.3758/s13421-020-01034-4.


People often need to remember the location of important objects or events, and also to remember locations that are associated with negative objects. In the current study, we examined how both positive and negative items might be selectively remembered in the visuospatial domain. Participants studied number-items ranging from -25 to +25 indicating point values in a grid display and were instructed to maximize their score (a summation of correctly remembered positive and negative information; incorrectly placed negative items resulted in a subtraction from the overall score). Items were presented in a sequential, simultaneous (Experiment 1), or self-regulated format (Experiment 2) where participants controlled which items to study and the length of study time per item. In Experiment 1, participants selectively recalled high-magnitude over low-magnitude items, but also displayed a positivity preference in memory. In Experiment 2, we were able to determine whether this positivity preference was a result of bottom-up, automatic, or top-down strategic processes. Results indicated that participants explicitly chose to study positive items more frequently and for more total time relative to negative items, suggesting a deliberate strategy to focus on positive information. This bias for highly positive information suggests an overt points-gained approach, as opposed to a loss-aversion approach, to remembering value in the visuospatial domain.

Keywords: Associative memory; Negativity; Positivity; Presentation format; Visuospatial memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Cognition
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall*
  • Motivation
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult