Effects of sleep on positive, negative and neutral valenced story and image memory

Br J Psychol. 2022 Aug;113(3):777-797. doi: 10.1111/bjop.12559. Epub 2022 Mar 7.


During sleep, emotional memories are preferentially strengthened. However, most studies on sleep and emotional memory focus on comparing negative valence with neutral valence stimuli. This study compared the sleep-dependent memory effects for stories and images, each comprising negative, neutral, and positive stimuli. It was hypothesized that a sleep effect would be seen for negatively and positively valenced stimuli. A novel story memory task (comprising three stories), and photographs from the Nencki Affective Picture database were presented for learning to 61 healthy adults (ages 18-25). They were tested for memory on the two tasks immediately, and then again after either a 2-hr nap (n = 31; 17 women, 14 men) or 2-hr wake period (n = 30; 13 women, 17 men). At second testing, the sleep condition had significantly better recall compared to the wake condition on both tasks. There was a relationship with valence only for the story task, with better performance for the sleep condition on the negatively and positively valenced texts, but not on the neutral text. There were no significant relationships between memory measures and sleep-stage duration and EEG power variables. The story memory findings support the hypothesis that memory consolidation prioritizes emotional memory, whether positively or negatively valenced.

Keywords: EEG power; N2 sleep; REM sleep; Sleep; Slow Wave Sleep; emotional memory; image memory; memory; memory consolidation; narrative memory; sigma power; story memory.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology
  • Male
  • Memory Consolidation / physiology
  • Memory* / physiology
  • Mental Recall / physiology
  • Sleep* / physiology
  • Young Adult