Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 26, Issue 6, pp 1967–1973 | Cite as

Spatial distancing reduces emotional arousal to reactivated memories

  • Natasha Parikh
  • Brynn McGovern
  • Kevin S. LaBarEmail author
Brief Report


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.


Emotion 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 (

Author contributions

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.

Supplementary material

13423_2019_1648_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (167 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 167 kb)


  1. Agren, T. (2014). Human reconsolidation: A reactivation and update. Brain Research Bulletin, 105, 70–82. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Agren, T., Engman, J., Frick, A., Björkstrand, J., Larsson, E.-M., Furmark, T., & Fredrikson, M. (2012). Disruption of reconsolidation erases a fear memory trace in the human amygdala. Science, 337(6101), 1550–1552. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Alberini, C. M., & LeDoux, J. E. (2013). Memory reconsolidation. Current Biology, 23(17), R746–R750. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Buhle, J. T., Silvers, J. A., Wager, T. D., Lopez, R., Onyemekwu, C., Kober, H., … Ochsner, K. N. (2014). Cognitive reappraisal of emotion: A meta-analysis of human neuroimaging studies. Cerebral Cortex, 24(11), 2981–2990. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Davis, J. I., Gross, J. J., & Ochsner, K. N. (2011). Psychological distance and emotional experience: What you see is what you get. Emotion, 11(2), 438–444. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Exton-McGuinness, M. T. J., Lee, J. L. C., & Reichelt, A. C. (2015). Updating memories—The role of prediction errors in memory reconsolidation. Behavioural Brain Research, 278, 375–384. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Fitzgerald, P. J., Seemann, J. R., & Maren, S. (2014). Can fear extinction be enhanced? A review of pharmacological and behavioral findings. Brain Research Bulletin, 105, 46–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Gershman, S. J., Monfils, M.-H., Norman, K. A., & Niv, Y. (2017). The computational nature of memory modification. ELife, 6.
  9. 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. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 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
  11. Hupbach, A., & Dorskind, J. M. (2014). Stress selectively affects the reactivated components of a declarative memory. Behavioral Neuroscience, 128(5), 614–620. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. 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. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  13. Kindt, M., & Soeter, M. (2013). Reconsolidation in a human fear conditioning study: A test of extinction as updating mechanism. Biological Psychology, 92(1), 43–50. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 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. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  15. LaBar, K. S. (2015). Therapeutic affect reduction, emotion regulation, and emotional memory reconsolidation: A neuroscientific quandary. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 38.
  16. Lakens, D. (2013). Calculating and reporting effect sizes to facilitate cumulative science: A practical primer for t-tests and ANOVAs. Frontiers in Psychology, 4.
  17. 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.
  18. 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
  19. Ochsner, K. N., & Gross, J. J. (2008). Cognitive Emotion Regulation: Insights from Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17(2), 153–158. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Powers, J. P., & LaBar, K. S. (2019). Regulating emotion through distancing: a taxonomy, neurocognitive model, and supporting meta-analysis. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 96, 155–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Ray, R. D., McRae, K., Ochsner, K. N., & Gross, J. J. (2010). Cognitive reappraisal of negative affect: Converging evidence from EMG and self-report. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 10(4), 587–592. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Schiller, D., Monfils, M.-H., Raio, C. M., Johnson, D. C., LeDoux, J. E., & Phelps, E. A. (2010). Preventing the return of fear in humans using reconsolidation update mechanisms. Nature, 463(7277), 49–53. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Sevenster, D., Beckers, T., & Kindt, M. (2012). Retrieval per se is not sufficient to trigger reconsolidation of human fear memory. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 97(3), 338–345. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Stöber, J. (2001). The Social Desirability Scale-17 (SDS-17). European Journal of Psychological Assessment,17(3), 222-232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 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. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Trope, Y., & Liberman, N. (2010). Construal-level theory of psychological distance. Psychological Review, 117(2), 440–463. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  27. 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. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Wolpe, J. (1969). The practice of behavior therapy (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Pergamon Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology and NeuroscienceDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Center for Cognitive NeuroscienceDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

Personalised recommendations