Brain Imaging and Behavior

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 1053–1066 | Cite as

Time is nothing: emotional consistency of autobiographical memory and its neural basis

  • Rui Xu
  • Juan Yang
  • Chunliang Feng
  • Haiyan Wu
  • Ruiwang Huang
  • Qiuli Yang
  • Zhihao Li
  • Pengfei Xu
  • Ruolei Gu
  • Yue-jia Luo
Original Research


The emotional aspect of autobiographical memories (AMs) is associated with self-related processing, which plays an important role in mental health. However, the emotional consistency dimension of AMs and its neural underpinnings remain largely unexplored. Twenty-five healthy participants were involved in this study. Participants were first asked to recall important AMs and assess the emotional ratings of each AM. Four weeks later, they were asked to retrieve the details of both positive and negative AMs during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning. Behavioral results showed that the emotional valence of negative memories changed more strongly than positive memories over time (i.e., lower consistency). fMRI data showed that the activation level of the precuneus was positively correlated with self-rating valence consistency in the positive AM condition. Additionally, the precuneus connected to a key region of the self-referential network, the medial prefrontal cortex, in both the positive and negative AM conditions. Finally, the precuneus showed stronger connections with the inferior parietal lobule when comparing the positive with the negative AM conditions. Our results suggest that the precuneus is a key area of emotional consistency in positive AMs; this brain area may be involved in the maintenance of a positive self-image by strengthening positive AMs.


Autobiographical memory Emotional consistency Functional magnetic resonance imaging Precuneus Self-referential processing 


Author contributions

RX and CF conceived, designed, and performed the experiment. RX, CF, HW, and RH analyzed the data. RX, JY, QY, and RG wrote the manuscript. CF, HW, ZL, and PX contributed to manuscript revision. YJL provided lab equipment for running the experiment.

Compliance with ethical standards


This study was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (81503480, 31571124, 31500920), KQTD (2015033016104926), the Beijing National Science Foundation (7154227), the Chinese Medical Scientific Development Foundation of Beijing City (JJ2011-69), the Project of Institute of Basic Research in Clinical Medicine, and the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences (Z0414).

Conflict of interest

All the authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. The experimental protocol was approved by the ethics committee of National Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and leaning, Beijing Normal University.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

11682_2017_9778_MOESM1_ESM.docx (23 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 22 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rui Xu
    • 1
    • 2
  • Juan Yang
    • 3
  • Chunliang Feng
    • 1
  • Haiyan Wu
    • 4
    • 5
  • Ruiwang Huang
    • 6
  • Qiuli Yang
    • 2
  • Zhihao Li
    • 7
    • 8
  • Pengfei Xu
    • 7
    • 8
  • Ruolei Gu
    • 4
    • 5
  • Yue-jia Luo
    • 7
    • 8
  1. 1.National Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and LeaningBeijing Normal UniversityBeijingChina
  2. 2.Institute of Basic Research in Clinical MedicineChina Academy of Chinese Medical SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.Faculty of PsychologySouthwest UniversityChongqingChina
  4. 4.Key Laboratory of Behavioral Science, Institute of PsychologyChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  5. 5.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  6. 6.Center for Studies of Psychological Application, Guangdong Key Laboratory of Mental Health and Cognitive Science, School of PsychologySouth China Normal UniversityGuangzhouChina
  7. 7.Shenzhen Key Laboratory of Affective and Social NeuroscienceShenzhen UniversityShenzhenChina
  8. 8.Center for Emotion and BrainShenzhen Institute of NeuroscienceShenzhenChina

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