Emotional intensity predicts autobiographical memory experience

Abstract

College students generated autobiographical memories from distinct emotional categories that varied in valence (positive vs. negative) and intensity (high vs. low). They then rated various perceptual, cognitive, and emotional properties for each memory. The distribution of these emotional memories favored a vector model over a circumplex model. For memories of all specific emotions, intensity accounted for significantly more variance in autobiographical memory characteristics than did valence or age of the memory. In two additional experiments, we examined multiple memories of emotions of high intensity and positive or negative valence and of positive valence and high or low intensity. Intensity was a more consistent predictor of autobiographical memory properties than was valence or the age of the memory in these experiments as well. The general effects of emotion on autobiographical memory properties are due primarily to intensity differences in emotional experience, not to benefits or detriments associated with a specific valence.

References

  1. Anderson, S. J., Cohen, G., &Taylor, S. (2000). Rewriting the past: Some factors affecting the variability of personal memories.Applied Cognitive Psychology,14, 435–454.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Anisfeld, M., &Lambert, W. E. (1966). When are pleasant words learned faster than unpleasant words?Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior,5, 132–141.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Banaji, M. R., &Hardin, C. (1994). Affect and memory in retrospective reports. In N. Schwarz & S. Sudman (Eds.),Autobiographical memory and the validity of retrospective reports (pp. 71–86). New York: Springer-Verlag.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Barlow, J. A. (1955). Recall of experiences as a function of intensity as compared to quality (pleasantness or unpleasantness) of feeling tone.Journal of the Scientific Laboratories,43, Arts, pp. 9–12.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C., &Vohs, K. D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good.Review of General Psychology,5, 323–370.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Baxter, M. F., Yamada, K., &Washburn, M. F. (1917). Minor studies from the psychological laboratory of Vassar College: Directed recall of pleasant and unpleasant experiences.American Journal of Psychology,28, 155–157.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Berntsen, D. (1996). Involuntary autobiographical memories.Applied Cognitive Psychology,10, 435–454.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Berntsen, D. (1998). Voluntary and involuntary access to autobiographical memory.Memory,6, 113–141.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. Berntsen, D. (2001). Involuntary memories of emotional events: Do memories of traumas and extremely happy events differ?Applied Cognitive Psychology,15, S135-S158.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Berntsen, D., &Rubin, D. C. (2002). Emotionally charged autobiographical memories across the lifespan: The retention of happy, sad, traumatic, and involuntary memories.Psychology & Aging,17, 636–652.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Berntsen, D., Willert, M., &Rubin, D. C. (2003). Splintered memories or vivid landmarks? Recollective qualities and organization of traumatic memories in PTSD.Applied Cognitive Psychology,17, 675–693.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Bluck, S., &Li, K. Z. H. (2001). Predicting memory completeness and accuracy: Emotion and exposure in repeated autobiographical recall.Applied Cognitive Psychology,15, 145–158.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Bradley, M. M., Codispoti, M., Cuthbert, B. N., &Lang, P. J. (2001). Emotion and motivation: I. Defensive and appetitive reactions in picture processing.Emotion,1, 276–298.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. Bradley, M. M., Greenwald, M. K., Petry, M. C., &Lang, P. J. (1992). Remembering pictures: Pleasure and arousal in memory.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition,18, 379–390.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Bradley, M. M., &Lang, P. J. (1999).Affective norms for English words (ANEW): Instruction manual and affective ratings (Tech. Rep. C-1). Gainesville: University of Florida, Center for Research in Psychophysiology.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Brewer, W. F. (1986). What is autobiographical memory? In D. C. Rubin (Ed.),Autobiographical memory (pp. 25–49). New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Brewer, W. F. (1995). What is recollective memory? In D. C. Rubin (Ed.),Remembering our past: Studies in autobiographical memory (pp. 19–66). New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Brown, R., &Kulik, J. (1977). Flashbulb memories.Cognition,5, 73–99.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Carter, H. D. (1936). Emotional correlates of errors in learning.Journal of Educational Psychology,27, 55–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Carter, H. D., Jones, H. E., &Shock, N. W. (1934). An experimental study of affective factors in learning.Journal of Educational Psychology,25, 203–215.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Cason, H. (1932). The learning and retention of pleasant and unpleasant activities.Archives of Psychology,134, 1–96.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Christianson, S.-Å. (1992a). Do flashbulb memories differ from other types of emotional memories? In E. Winograd & U. Neisser (Eds.),Affect and accuracy in recall: Studies of “flashbulb” memories (Vol. 4, pp. 191–211). New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Christianson, S.-Å. (1992b). Emotional stress and eyewitness memory: A critical review.Psychological Bulletin,112, 284–309.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. Clark, H. H. (1973). The language-as-fixed-effect fallacy: A critique of language statistics in psychological research.Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior,12, 335–359.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Conte, H. R., &Plutchik, R. (1981). A circumplex model for interpersonal personality traits.Journal of Personality & Social Psychology,40, 701–711.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Conway, M. A. (1990). Conceptual representation of emotions: The role of autobiographical memories. In K. J. Gilhooly, M. T. G. Keane, R. H. Logie, & G. Erdos (Eds.),Lines of thinking: Reflections on the psychology of thought: Vol. 2. Skills, emotion, creative processes, individual differences and teaching thinking (pp. 133–143). Oxford: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Conway, M. A., &Bekerian, D. A. (1987a). Organization in autobiographical memory.Memory & Cognition,15, 119–132.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Conway, M. A., &Bekerian, D. A. (1987b). Situational knowledge and emotions.Cognition & Emotion,1, 145–191.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Conway, M. A., &Bekerian, D. A. (1988). Characteristics of vivid memories. In R. N. Sykes (Ed.),Practical aspects of memory: Current research and issues. Vol. 1: Memory in everyday life (pp. 519–524). New York: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  30. D’Argembeau, A., Comblain, C., &Van Der Linden, M. (2003). Phenomenal characteristics of autobiographical memories for positive, negative, and neutral events.Applied Cognitive Psychology,17, 281–294.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Destun, L. M., &Kuiper, N. A. (1999). Phenomenal characteristics associated with real and imagined events: The effects of event valence and absorption.Applied Cognitive Psychology,13, 175–186.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Duffy, E. (1934). Emotion: An example of the need for reorientation in psychology.Psychological Review,41, 184–198.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Duffy, E. (1941). An explanation of “emotional” phenomena without the use of the concept “emotion.”Journal of General Psychology,25, 283–293.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Dunlap, K. (1932). Are emotions teleological constructs?American Journal of Psychology,44, 572–576.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Ekman, P. (1992). Are there basic emotions?Psychological Review,99, 550–553.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. Fisher, G. A., Heise, D. R., Bohrnstedt, G. W., &Lucke, J. F. (1985). Evidence for extending the circumplex model of personality trait language to self-reported moods.Journal of Personality & Social Psychology,49, 233–242.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Gordon, K. (1928). A study of early memories.Journal of Delinquency,12, 129–132.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Guy, S. C., &Cahill, L. (1999). The role of overt rehearsal in enhanced conscious memory for emotional events.Consciousness & Cognition,8, 114–122.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Hayes, P., Conway, M. A., &Morris, P. E. (1992). Evaluating “the cognitive structure of emotions” using autobiographical memories of emotional events. In M. A. Conway, D. C. Rubin, H. Spinnler, & W. A. Wagenaar (Eds.),Theoretical perspectives on autobiographical memory (pp. 353–374). Boston: Kluwer.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Henderson, E. N. (1911). Do we forget the disagreeable?Journal of Philosophy, Psychology & Scientific Methods,8, 432–437.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Holmes, D. S. (1970). Differential change in affective intensity and the forgetting of unpleasant personal experiences.Journal of Personality & Social Psychology,15, 234–239.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Izard, C. E. (1992). Basic emotions, relations among emotions, and emotion-cognition relations.Psychological Review,99, 561–565.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  43. Jersild, A. (1931). Memory for the pleasant as compared with the unpleasant.Journal of Experimental Psychology,14, 284–288.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Lang, P. J. (1995). The emotion probe: Studies of motivation and attention.American Psychologist,50, 372–385.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  45. Lang, P. J., Bradley, M. M., &Cuthbert, B. N. (1999).International affective picture system (IAPS): Instruction manual and affective ratings (Tech. Rep. A-4). Gainesville: University of Florida, Center for Research in Psychophysiology.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Larsen, S. (1998). What is it like to remember? On phenomenal qualities of memory. In C. P. Thompson, D. J. Herrmann, D. Bruce, J. D. Read, D. G. Payne, & M. P. Toglia (Eds.),Autobiographical memory: Theoretical and applied perspectives (pp. 163–190). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Levine, L. J. (1997). Reconstructing memory for emotions.Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,126, 165–177.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Linton, M. (1975). Memory for real-world events. In D. A. Norman & D. E. Rumelhart (Eds.),Explorations in cognition (pp. 376–404). San Francisco: Freeman.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Lishman, W. A. (1974). The speed of recall of pleasant and unpleasant experiences.Psychological Medicine,4, 212–218.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  50. Loftus, E. F., Donders, K., Hoffman, H. G., &Schooler, J. W. (1989). Creating new memories that are quickly accessed and confidently held.Memory & Cognition,17, 607–616.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Master, D., Lishman, W. A., &Smith, A. (1983). Speed of recall in relation to affective tone and intensity of experience.Psychological Medicine,13, 325–331.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  52. Matlin, M. W., &Stang, D. J. (1978).The Pollyanna principle: Selectivity in language, memory, and thought. Cambridge, MA: Schenkman.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Meltzer, H. (1930). Individual differences in forgetting pleasant and unpleasant experiences.Journal of Educational Psychology,21, 399–409.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Menzies, R. (1935). The comparative memory values of pleasant, unpleasant and indifferent experiences.Journal of Experimental Psychology,18, 267–279.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Neisser, U. (1981). John Dean’s memory: A case study.Cognition,9, 1–22.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  56. Neisser, U., &Harsch, N. (1992). Phantom flashbulbs: False recollections of hearing the news about Challenger. In E. Winograd & U. Neisser (Eds.),Affect and accuracy in recall: Studies of “flashbulb” memories (Vol. 4, pp. 9–31). New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  57. Nigro, G., &Neisser, U. (1983). Point of view in personal memories.Cognitive Psychology,15, 467–482.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Oatley, K., &Johnson-Laird, P. N. (1987). Towards a cognitive theory of emotions.Cognition & Emotion,1, 29–50.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. O’Kelly, L. I., &Steckle, L. C. (1940). The forgetting of pleasant and unpleasant experiences.American Journal of Psychology,53, 432–434.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Ortony, A., Turner, T. J., &Antos, S. J. (1983). A puzzle about affect and recognition memory.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition,9, 725–729.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Osgood, C. E. (1966). Dimensionality of the semantic space for communication via facial expressions.Scandinavian Journal of Psychology,7, 1–30.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  62. Raspotnig, M. A. (1997). Subcomponents of imagery and their influence on emotional memories.Journal of Mental Imagery,21, 135–146.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Reisberg, D., Heuer, F., McLean, J., &O’Shaughnessy, M. (1988). The quantity, not the quality, of affect predicts memory vividness.Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society,26, 100–103.

    Google Scholar 

  64. Robinson, J. A. (1980). Affect and retrieval of personal memories.Motivation & Emotion,4, 149–174.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Robinson, J. A., &Swanson, K. L. (1993). Field and observer modes of remembering.Memory,1, 169–184.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  66. Rubin, D. C. (1985). Memorability as a measure of processing: A unit analysis of prose and list learning.Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,114, 213–238.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Rubin, D. C., &Berntsen, D. (2003). Life scripts help to maintain autobiographical memories of highly positive, but not highly negative, events.Memory & Cognition,31, 1–14.

    Google Scholar 

  68. Rubin, D. C., Burt, C. D. B., &Fifield, S. J. (2003). Experimental manipulations of the phenomenology of memory.Memory & Cognition,31, 877–886.

    Google Scholar 

  69. Rubin, D. C., Feldman, M. E., &Beckham, J. C. (2004). Reliving, emotions, and fragmentation in the autobiographical memories of veterans diagnosed with PTSD.Applied Cognitive Psychology,1, 17–35.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  70. Rubin, D. C., &Kozin, M. (1984). Vivid memories.Cognition,16, 81–95.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  71. Rubin, D. C., Schrauf, R. W., &Greenberg, D. L. (2003). Belief and recollection of autobiographical memories.Memory & Cognition,31, 887–901.

    Google Scholar 

  72. Russell, J. A. (1980). A circumplex model of affect.Journal of Personality & Social Psychology,39, 1161–1178.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  73. Russell, J. A., &Carroll, J. M. (1999). On the bipolarity of positive and negative affect.Psychological Bulletin,125, 3–30.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  74. Schwartz, G. E., Weinberger, D. A., &Singer, J. A. (1981). Cardiovascular differentiation of happiness, sadness, anger, and fear following imagery and exercise.Psychosomatic Medicine,43, 343–364.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  75. Seidlitz, L., Jr.,Wyer, R. S., &Diener, E. (1997). Cognitive correlates of subjective well-being: The processing of valenced life events by happy and unhappy persons.Journal of Research in Personality,31, 240–256.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  76. Sheen, M., Kemp, S., &Rubin, D. (2001). Twins dispute memory ownership: A new false memory phenomenon.Memory & Cognition,29, 779–788.

    Google Scholar 

  77. Stagner, R. (1933). Factors influencing the memory value of words in a series.Journal of Experimental Psychology,16, 129–137.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  78. Strongman, K. T., &Kemp, S. (1991). Autobiographical memory for emotion.Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society,29, 195–198.

    Google Scholar 

  79. Talarico, J., &Rubin, D. C. (2003). Confidence, not consistency, characterizes flashbulb memories.Psychological Science,14, 455–461.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  80. Thompson, C. P. (1985). Memory for unique personal events: Effects of pleasantness.Motivation & Emotion,9, 277–289.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  81. Tromp, S., Koss, M. P., Figueredo, A. J., &Tharan, M. (1995). Are rape memories different? A comparison of rape, other unpleasant, and pleasant memories among employed women.Journal of Traumatic Stress,8, 607–627.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  82. van der Kolk, B. A., &Fisler, R. (1995). Dissociation and the fragmentary nature of traumatic memories: Overview and exploratory study.Journal of Traumatic Stress,8, 505–525.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  83. Wagenaar, W. A. (1986). My memory: A study of autobiographical memory over six years.Cognitive Psychology,18, 225–252.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  84. Walker, W. R., Vogl, R. J., &Thompson, C. P. (1997). Autobiographical memory: Unpleasantness fades faster than pleasantness over time.Applied Cognitive Psychology,11, 399–413.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  85. Washburn, M. F., Deyo, D., &Marks, D. (1924). A further study of revived emotions.American Journal of Psychology,35, 113–120.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  86. Washburn, M. F., Field, R., &Wolf, E. D. (1923). A study of revived emotions.American Journal of Psychology,34, 99–103.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  87. Washburn, M. F., Giang, F., Ives, M., &Pollock, M. (1925). Memory revival of emotions as a test of emotional and phlegmatic temperaments.American Journal of Psychology,36, 456–459.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  88. Waters, R. H., &Leeper, R. (1936). The relation of affective tone to the retention of experiences of daily life.Journal of Experimental Psychology,19, 203–215.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  89. Wenzel, A., Pinna, K., &Rubin, D. C. (2004). Autobiographical memories of anxiety-related experiences.Behaviour Research & Therapy,42, 329–341.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  90. White, R. T. (1982). Memory for personal events.Human Learning,1, 171–183.

    Google Scholar 

  91. White, R. [T.] (2002). Memory for events after twenty years.Applied Cognitive Psychology,16, 603–612.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  92. Williams, J. M. G. (1995). Depression and the specificity of autobiographical memory. In D. C. Rubin (Ed.),Remembering our past: Studies in autobiographical memory (pp. 244–267). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  93. Wohlgemuth, A. (1923). The influence of feeling on memory.British Journal of Psychology,13, 405–416.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jennifer M. Talarico.

Additional information

Portions of this research were presented at the 15th Annual Meeting of the American Psychological Society (2003). The article was written in part when D.C.R. was a visiting professor at the Psychology Department, University of Aarhus. This work was supported by a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship (to J.M.T.), National Institutes of Health Grant RO1 DA14094 (to K.S.L.), and a NARSAD Young Investigator Award (to K.S.L.).

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Talarico, J.M., LaBar, K.S. & Rubin, D.C. Emotional intensity predicts autobiographical memory experience. Memory & Cognition 32, 1118–1132 (2004). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03196886

Download citation

Keywords

  • Autobiographical Memory
  • Vector Model
  • Emotional Intensity
  • Memory Property
  • Emotional Memory