Recalling Emotional Memories

Posted on September 26, 2018

Research psychologists suggest that emotionally charged memories are more accurately recalled when it is shared with others than when kept to ourselves.

In a subsequent experiment, participants were split into 2 groups – an individual recall, or collective recall condition – for a college exam. They were also asked to fill up a questionnaire to indicate their level of emotional arousal and the corresponding valence of those emotions, i.e. positive or negative emotions. The researchers hypothesized that those in the collective recall condition should develop shared memory of certain aspects of the situation, and that these shared aspects should reflect their “cultural, political or group identity”. This means that just as our self-identity tailors our recall of past events to influence our self-concept, people share memories of a significant event in a way that will reinforce their shared concept of the group.

The results showed that more than half of the participants had positive memories of the exam situation, supporting the theory of a positive bias in memory recall – people tend to focus on positive aspects of a past event, while dismissing the unpleasant details.
On the other hand, for those holding negative feelings about the exam, those in the collective recall condition reported lower levels of negative emotions than the individual recall condition, most likely because they were able to share their thoughts and feelings with the group.

Collaboration also increased the quality of personal narratives for those in the collective recall condition – they reported more positive and externally-focused memories; rather than ruminating on the unpleasant emotions elicited by the exam, they were able to discuss it with the group, resulting in a better understanding and emotional outcome of the whole experience. This further supports the hypothesis that talking it out with others helps to reduce the emotional intensity of difficult events.

In conclusion, talking about difficult experiences with others can improve later recall of the event as it may help in the organization and structuring of the event. Furthermore, it can help to alleviate the negative emotions associated with the memory and its intensity. Hence, it might be worthwhile to discuss emotionally charged experiences with others if you’re finding it difficult to deal with it on your own.

Category(s):Other, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) / Trauma / Complex PTSD

Source material from Psychology Today