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Mem Cognit. 2006 Mar;34(2):251-60.

Reality monitoring and memory distortion: effects of negative, arousing content.

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Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.


Although individuals often claim to vividly remember negatively arousing information, few studies have been performed to examine whether this emotional information is remembered more accurately than nonemotional information. In the present study, we investigated whether the emotional content of items modulates the accuracy with which individuals make reality-monitoring decisions. Participants (young adults, 18-35 years of age) distinguished imagined from seen words (Experiments 1 and 3A) or objects (Experiments 2 and 3B). Half of the items studied in each condition (presented and imagined) were negative and arousing, and half were neutral. The participants mistook imagined items for presented ones, but the number of reality-monitoring errors was lower for the arousing items than for the neutral items. Negative, arousing items appear to be remembered with contextual detail more frequently than are neutral items, leading memory for this emotional information to be less prone to distortion than is memory for neutral information. Thus, negative arousal can enhance not only the subjective vividness of a memory, but also a memory's accuracy.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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