Spatial distancing reduces emotional arousal to reactivated memories
Memories are able to update and adapt with new information about the world after they are reactivated. However, it is unknown whether the labile period following reactivation makes episodic memories more amenable to emotion regulation, an application that holds great clinical promise. Here, we investigated the efficacy of cognitive reappraisal to down regulate negative affect in response to reactivated memories. Healthy young adults (N = 119) rated the emotionality of negative pictures. After a partial reactivation of each picture 2 days later, participants voluntarily engaged in a spatial distancing regulation tactic by imagining the reactivated object extremely far away from them. Compared with no-regulation and no-reactivation controls, self-reported arousal for regulated pictures dropped significantly 2 days after the manipulation, despite no significant difference in memory accuracy or valence. These results open up a new line of work that capitalizes on reactivation-based lability to selectively alter enduring arousal responses to emotional memories.
KeywordsEmotion regulation Memory modification Spatial distancing Reconsolidation
This research was conducted with Government support under and awarded by DoD, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowship, 32 CFR 168a.
Open practices statement
All data from the study can be retrieved upon publication from the Duke Digital Repository (repository.duke.edu).
K. S. LaBar and N. Parikh developed the study concept and contributed to the study design. Testing, data collection, and data analysis were performed by N. Parikh and B. McGovern. N. Parikh interpreted the data and drafted the manuscript, and K. S. LaBar provided critical revisions. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript for submission.
- Agren, T. (2014). Human reconsolidation: A reactivation and update. Brain Research Bulletin, 105, 70–82. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brainresbull.2013.12.010 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Gershman, S. J., Monfils, M.-H., Norman, K. A., & Niv, Y. (2017). The computational nature of memory modification. ELife, 6. https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.23763
- Green, S. R., Kragel, P. A., Fecteau, M. E., & LaBar, K. S. (2014). Development and validation of an unsupervised scoring system (Autonomate) for skin conductance response analysis. International Journal of Psychophysiology : Official Journal of the International Organization of Psychophysiology, 91(3), 186–193. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2013.10.015 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Gross, J. J., & John, O. P. (2003). Individual differences in two emotion regulation processes: implications for affect, relationships, and well-being. Journal of personality and social psychology, 85(2), 348.Google Scholar
- James, E. L., Bonsall, M. B., Hoppitt, L., Tunbridge, E. M., Geddes, J. R., Milton, A. L., & Holmes, E. A. (2015). Computer game play reduces intrusive memories of experimental trauma via reconsolidation-update mechanisms. Psychological Science, 26(8), 1201–1215. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797615583071 CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
- Kindt, M., & van Emmerik, A. (2016). New avenues for treating emotional memory disorders: Towards a reconsolidation intervention for posttraumatic stress disorder. Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, 6(4), 283–295. https://doi.org/10.1177/2045125316644541 CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
- LaBar, K. S. (2015). Therapeutic affect reduction, emotion regulation, and emotional memory reconsolidation: A neuroscientific quandary. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 38. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X14000193
- Lakens, D. (2013). Calculating and reporting effect sizes to facilitate cumulative science: A practical primer for t-tests and ANOVAs. Frontiers in Psychology, 4. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00863
- Lane, R. D., Ryan, L., Nadel, L., & Greenberg, L. (2015). Memory reconsolidation, emotional arousal, and the process of change in psychotherapy: New insights from brain science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 38. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X14000041
- Lang, P. J., Bradley, M. M., & Cuthbert, B. N. (2008). International affective picture system (IAPS): affective ratings of pictures and instruction manual. University of Florida, Gainesville. Tech Rep A-8.Google Scholar
- Treanor, M., Brown, L. A., Rissman, J., & Craske, M. G. (2017). Can memories of traumatic experiences or addiction be erased or modified? A critical review of research on the disruption of memory reconsolidation and its applications. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 12(2), 290–305. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691616664725 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Wang, S.-H., & Morris, R. G. M. (2010). Hippocampal-neocortical interactions in memory formation, consolidation, and reconsolidation. Annual Review of Psychology, 61(1), 49–79. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.093008.100523 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Wolpe, J. (1969). The practice of behavior therapy (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Pergamon Press.Google Scholar