How Emotions Influence Memory

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The following report was written as part of my graduate studies in General Psychology. It has not been published anywhere but this site. Please contact me before reusing or reporting this paper.

Course: Cognitive Psychology

Assignment: The first sentence in each paragraph answers the questions asked about the two cited research papers.

How Emotions Influence Memory

Emotions can influence memory for details in a variety of ways. Studies have shown that memories are not exact replicas and that they are “…constructed at the time of withdrawal” and include “…logical inferences that fill in missing detail, associated memories that blend in with the original memory, and other relevant information” (Plous, 1995, p. 31). Any personal emotional information associated with a memory being recalled will likely affect how the details are evoked (Plous, 1993). The use of emotionally charged words in questioning can also affect the recall of details. In a study, car accident witnesses responded differently to questions about the event when asked using different words, such as “contacted” versus “smashed” (Plous, 1993, p. 32). Both internal emotions and external emotion-inducing words and situations can influence memory for details.

Studies have shown that non-emotional events tend to be poorly remembered (Plous, 1993). The “hindsight bias” phenomena shows that people remember details differently without realizing it when they make justifications for the existing known result (Plous, 2005). In another study, psychology conference participants could not recall key topics correctly six-weeks later, showing the need for detailed notes and record keeping (Plous, 2005). I have noticed that different people hear and interpret presentations differently. For several years in a past job I compiled corporate board meeting minutes using the notes from three different attendees, and I was often surprised at the differences in what each of them took away from the meeting.

It appears that laboratory studies have not definitively confirmed Freud’s theory of suppressed traumatic memories for a few reasons: (1) because many such claims have been found to be false memories; (2) because of skepticism; and (3) because of other interpretations. A substantial number of repressed memory recalls have been retracted, especially when they were recovered under guidance of some sort (McNally & Geraerts, 2009). Repressed memories of alien abductions and past lives are often considered implausible. Most interestingly, in one study, memories were actually implanted and remembered by college students (McNally & Geraerts, 2009). So while repressed memories of traumatic events likely exist, most empirical evidence tends to support other answers. McNally and Geraerts (2009) offer three different interpretations of repressed memories: (1) some events are so emotionally traumatic that they are incapable of being remembered until a safer place and time exists; (2) some events are shown to be false or mistaken memories, especially if they came about by memory-recovery techniques; and (3) some events are not actually forgotten, but because they were not understood they were not traumatic; they were not thought about until as an adult when the situation was reinterpreted and the abuse was realized (McNally & Geraerts, 2009). “A genuinely recovered Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA) memory does not require repression, trauma, or even complete forgetting” (McNally and Geraerts, 2009, p. 132).


Goldstein, E. B. (2015) Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.

McNally, R. J., & Geraerts, E. (2009). A new solution to the recovered memory debate. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4(2), 126–134.

Plous, S. (1993). The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making. McGraw-Hill.

Copyright 2015 Rocksandy. All rights reserved.



2 thoughts on “How Emotions Influence Memory

  1. I would certainly agree that emotions influence memory, as shown by your evidence. It’s an interesting topic, especially when you get into, as you stated, how different people will recall different memories, it’s all about what’s relevant to us at the time. I was recalling a memory from my childhood the other day with my mother, getting into the swing of the story, when she suddenly said ‘No that didn’t happen. Why did you think that?’ I was astounded as I had been telling the story to others for years, and now realised that it wasn’t true. I had got carried away with the details and effectively changed the truth along the way. Best of luck with your graduate degree, I may end up citing you in my undergrad degree, but I will ask you beforehand.

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