Emotional Stimuli Modulate Memory Competition by Disrupting Memory Integration

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When we try to selectively recall a specific memory, several memories with shared features compete with each other to access our conscious awareness. If we fail to resolve this memory competition in favor of the target memory, a non-target memory will win this competition and guide our behavior, hence resulting in what is referred to as an intrusion. Even though the differential encoding of stimuli with an emotional valance compared to stimuli with a neutral valance has been documented quite well, the influence of emotional valance on memory competition has received no attention yet. Here, we conducted one behavioral and one functional MRI (fMRI) experiment to examine the effect of emotional valance on memory competition. Participants learned, based on the assigned condition, to associate pictures with different emotional valances to locations on a map. Analysis of selective retrieval of a specific association revealed that the amount of intrusions linearly increased with the amount of emotional stimuli in an association. These results suggest that not increased memory strength but impaired integration of emotional stimuli compared to neutral stimuli affects memory competition. Consistent with previous neuroimaging studies, our preliminary fMRI results provided evidence for a role of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) in resolving memory competition in favor of the target memory.
Faculteit der Sociale Wetenschappen