NEVER forget: negative emotional valence enhances recapitulation

  • Holly J. Bowen
  • Sarah M. Kark
  • Elizabeth A. Kensinger
Theoretical Review


A hallmark feature of episodic memory is that of “mental time travel,” whereby an individual feels they have returned to a prior moment in time. Cognitive and behavioral neuroscience methods have revealed a neurobiological counterpart: Successful retrieval often is associated with reactivation of a prior brain state. We review the emerging literature on memory reactivation and recapitulation, and we describe evidence for the effects of emotion on these processes. Based on this review, we propose a new model: Negative Emotional Valence Enhances Recapitulation (NEVER). This model diverges from existing models of emotional memory in three key ways. First, it underscores the effects of emotion during retrieval. Second, it stresses the importance of sensory processing to emotional memory. Third, it emphasizes how emotional valence – whether an event is negative or positive – affects the way that information is remembered. The model specifically proposes that, as compared to positive events, negative events both trigger increased encoding of sensory detail and elicit a closer resemblance between the sensory encoding signature and the sensory retrieval signature. The model also proposes that negative valence enhances the reactivation and storage of sensory details over offline periods, leading to a greater divergence between the sensory recapitulation of negative and positive memories over time. Importantly, the model proposes that these valence-based differences occur even when events are equated for arousal, thus rendering an exclusively arousal-based theory of emotional memory insufficient. We conclude by discussing implications of the model and suggesting directions for future research to test the tenets of the model.


Emotion Encoding Reactivation Retrieval Memory 


Author note

All authors contributed to the literature review and development of the model and are listed in alphabetical order.

Manuscript preparation was supported by grant R01MH080833 from the National Institutes of Health (to EAK) and by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship DGE1258923 (to SMK). We thank all the attendees of the Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience laboratory meetings for their helpful discussion and critique of the ideas expressed in this manuscript.

Supplementary material

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© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Holly J. Bowen
    • 1
  • Sarah M. Kark
    • 1
  • Elizabeth A. Kensinger
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyBoston CollegeChestnut HillUSA

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