Dissociation of immediate and delayed effects of emotional arousal on episodic memory

D Schümann, J Bayer, Deborah Talmi, Tobias Sommer

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Emotionally arousing events are usually better remembered than neutral ones. This phenomenon is in humans mostly studied by presenting mixed lists of neutral and emotional items. An emotional enhancement of memory is observed in these studies often already immediately after encoding and increases with longer delays and consolidation. A large body of animal research showed that the more efficient consolidation of emotionally arousing events is based on an activation of the central noradrenergic system and the amygdala (Modulation Hypothesis; Roozendaal & McGaugh, 2011). The immediately superior recognition of emotional items is attributed primarily to their attraction of attention during encoding which is also thought to be based on the amygdala and the central noradrenergic system. To investigate whether the amygdala and noradrenergic system support memory encoding and consolidation via shared neural substrates and processes a large sample of participants (n = 690) encoded neutral and arousing pictures. Their memory was tested immediately and after a consolidation delay. In addition, they were genotyped in two relevant polymorphisms (α2B-adrenergic receptor and serotonin transporter). Memory for negative and positive emotional pictures was enhanced at both time points where these enhancements were correlated (immediate r = 0.60 and delayed test r = 0.46). Critically, the effects of emotional arousal on encoding and consolidation correlated only very low (negative r = 0.14 and positive r = 0.03 pictures) suggesting partly distinct underlying processes consistent with a functional heterogeneity of the central noradrenergic system. No effect of genotype on either effect was observed.
Original languageEnglish
JournalLearning & memory
Early online date28 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018


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