Memory & Cognition

, Volume 18, Issue 5, pp 496-506

First online:

Vivid memories of emotional events: The accuracy of remembered minutiae

  • Friderike HeuerAffiliated withPsychology Department, Reed College
  • , Daniel ReisbergAffiliated withPsychology Department, Reed College


It has been claimed that emotional arousal causes a narrowing of attention, and, therefore, impoverished memory encoding. On this view, if details of an emotional event are reported subsequently, these details must be after-the-fact reconstructions that are open to error. Our study challenges these claims. Using a long-term (2-week), incidental learning procedure, wefound that emotion promotes memory both for information central to an event and for peripheral detail. This contrasts with the results of explicit instructions to remember or to attend closely to the event, both of which seem to promote memory for the event’s gist at the expense of detail. The likely mechanisms underlying these effects are discussed.