The Relationship between Emotional and Episodic Memory

Furthermore, while both emotion and cognition are implicated in encoding of events into memory, they are still difficult to distinguish from one another. Although understanding the role of emotions and cognition in memory building has been a mainstream topic of research, the emphasis has shifted to studying their combined roles in mental processing. The relationship between both emotional and episodic memory is thus a highly charged subject of study. Emotional memory is triggered by emotions while episodic memory involves the conscious remembering of the details of an event. Tulving and Szpunar (2009) point out that episodic memory is one of the chief cognitive activities made possible by the brain. It is an extraordinary fact that emotionally arousing events are more likely to be remembered than emotionally neutral events. The focus of attention and capacity to recall is also different in the two different types of events. In emotionally arousing events, affect-laden detail is the centre of attention rather than peripheral detail. For instance, a study reported that subjects are more likely to remember the focal detail rather than the peripheral details of an emotionally arousing image. Moreover, the details of items that are perceived negatively are remembered more than details of positively perceived items. For instance, in the study just discussed, subjects were able to remember the details better when shown an image of a snake rather than a gown or a cake. Another interesting observation is that when an event is accompanied with a positive emotion, there is less confidence in the recall-ability of such an event. Demonstrating this phenomenon, a 2004 study by Levine and Bluck published in the journal Cognition and Emotion, showed that when a recognition test was conducted on participants of the famous O. J. Simpson murder trial, those who perceived the verdict positively were more likely to believe that the events were fictitious than those who were angry with the verdict. It is thus seen that both emotional and episodic memory are highly cooperative, yet they are believed to be very distinct, in terms of both anatomy and function. For efficient recalling of an event, the event is first ‘encoded’ and then transformed into an appropriate representation (consolidation), followed by a ‘retrieval’ of that representation. Evidence suggests that these three processes are enhanced when an event is emotionally arousing, thereby resulting in a better recall of that event (MacLeod and Mathews, 2004). Moreover, in a study published in Psychological Science, LaBar and Phelps (1998) have shown that emotionally arousing events are often secured as long-term memories while non-emotionally arousing events are forgotten easily. Neurobiological studies by LaBar and Cabeza (2006) have demonstrated that in events with emotionally laden stimuli, the processes of encoding and consolidation are enhanced due to a more active functioning of the amygdala. Supporting this further and reinforcing the role of emotion in memory, a previous study had shown that the interaction of the amygdala with the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex enhances memory. Buchanan (2007) reviewed a number of animal studies that showed that emotion has a very significant influence on the recall of episodic memory events. His paper further contended that there is a deep cooperation between emotional and epi