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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Mar 2;101(9):3310-5. Epub 2004 Feb 23.

Two routes to emotional memory: distinct neural processes for valence and arousal.

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  • 1Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA. ekensing@alum.mit.edu


Prior investigations have demonstrated that emotional information is often better remembered than neutral information, but they have not directly contrasted effects attributable to valence and those attributable to arousal. By using functional MRI and behavioral studies, we found that distinct cognitive and neural processes contribute to emotional memory enhancement for arousing information versus valenced, nonarousing information. The former depended on an amygdalar-hippocampal network, whereas the latter was supported by a prefrontal cortex-hippocampal network implicated in controlled encoding processes. A behavioral companion study, with a divided-attention paradigm, confirmed that memory enhancement for valenced, nonarousing words relied on controlled encoding processes: concurrent task performance reduced the enhancement effect. Enhancement for arousing words occurred automatically, even when encoding resources were diverted to the secondary task.

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